Anytime you sit for long periods, you may experience some aches and pains, especially if you’re in tight quarters, such as on an airplane.
Although the risk of developing a serious medical condition or illness from long periods of sitting on a plane is low for healthy adults, it can be detrimental to those living with deep vein thrombosis.
If you’re a frequent flyer, you’ve probably heard about the increased chance of developing a blood clot from too much time in the air. Knowing how to assess and mitigate your risk of blood clots is important for those at increased risk of developing DVT.
Let’s explore the tie between flying and DVT in further detail.
What is deep vein thrombosis (DVT)?
Deep vein thrombosis is a vein-related condition that occurs when a blood clot forms in one or more deep veins in your body. Although DVT can affect any area of the body, it is most common in the legs.
DVT blood clots are extremely serious, as they could break off and lead to a pulmonary embolism (PE), a blockage in an artery of the lungs, that can lead to death.
It is important to understand the potential symptoms and increased risk factors of DVT so that you can recognize them immediately and get the treatment you need sooner.
For some patients with DVT, no symptoms are experienced. In those cases, a pulmonary embolism may be the first sign of a deep vein blood clot.
For those who do experience DVT symptoms, they most commonly include
- swelling in the foot, ankle or leg, usually occurring only on one side
- cramping in the calf
- severe pain in the foot or ankle
- an area of skin that feels warmer to the touch than the other skin surrounding it
- an area of skin that turns pale or a reddish or bluish color
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms it is important to see a vascular specialist right away for further evaluation.
If you suddenly begin to experience any symptoms of a pulmonary embolism, you should seek emergency care immediately.
- rapid heart rate
- chest pain that worsens after coughing
- rapid breathing
- coughing up blood
It is important to note that signs and symptoms of DVT and PE may not arise immediately following a flight. It could take days to weeks for them to appear.
Anyone can develop a blood clot and DVT at any time. Various things may increase your risk of DVT, such as sitting for long periods of time due to long car rides, desk jobs or flying.
Other risk factors include:
- prolonged bed rest
- injury or surgery
- oral contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy
- inflammatory bowel syndrome
- genetics and family history
- heart failure
Sitting for long periods in a cramped or small area may reduce blood flow to your legs, increasing your risk of developing a circulation problem such as DVT.
Although the risk of DVT varies by person, there is a direct link between a more extended flight and a higher risk of developing DVT. In short, the longer the flight, the higher your risk becomes.
You are more likely to develop DVT on a flight if you
- are 50 or older
- have damaged veins due to injury
- are overweight
- have limited mobility
- have a genetic clotting disorder
- have a family history of DVT
- have a catheter placed in a vein in the lower extremities
- are pregnant or have given birth in the last month
- are a smoker
Whether or not you’re considered more at risk than others, flights lasting 8 hours or more put you at the highest risk.
Even if you’ve had DVT or PE, you don’t have to rule out flying completely.
You must speak with your doctor before travel to ensure you take all recommended precautions.
Your doctor may recommend
- sitting in an exit row or bulkhead seat for increased leg room
- wearing compression stockings
- taking prescription blood thinners or aspirin
- exercises for your feet and legs while flying
- taking shorter flights or adding a connection between locations so that you can get up and move around
If you’ve recently been diagnosed with DVT or are experiencing symptoms consistent with this condition, our team of vein specialists can help.
Don’t continue to fly without a thorough assessment, diagnosis and treatment plan. This will help reduce your risk of blood clot complications and provide you with complete care guidelines for all aspects of managing DVT in your daily life, plane trips included.
Our vein care specialists are experts in the most advanced vein care procedures and technologies, including treatment for DVT. Call 336-536-6522 to schedule an appointment today.