Flights: You risk this big health problem on a plane – here’s how to prevent it

Flights – especially ones to far-flung locations – see fliers sitting in the same position on a plane for a long period of time. Being stationary for so long can result in a rather nasty health condition that travellers need to look out for. This is deep vein thrombosis (DVT) which occurs when a blood clot (thrombus) forms in one or more of the deep veins in your body, usually in your legs. Deep vein thrombosis can cause leg pain or swelling, but also can occur with no symptoms.

One way it can happen is if you don’t move for a long time – so what can you look out for on a plane?

The Mayo Clinic told “Deep vein thrombosis signs and symptoms can include: Swelling in the affected leg – rarely, there’s swelling in both legs; pain in your leg – the pain often starts in your calf and can feel like cramping or soreness.”

Two further symptoms include: “Red or discoloured skin on the leg and a feeling of warmth in the affected leg.”

DVT can be very serious because blood clots in your veins can break loose, travel through your bloodstream and lodge in your lungs, blocking blood flow (called a pulmonary embolism).

The Mayo Clinic added: “Although anyone can develop blood clots and subsequent pulmonary embolism, certain factors can increase your risk, including prolonged periods of immobility.

“Blood clots are more likely to form during periods of inactivity, which can include long trips.

“Sitting in a cramped position during lengthy plane or car trips slows blood flow in the legs, which contributes to the formation of clots.”

So how can you prevent DVT while travelling? “The risk of blood clots developing while travelling is low, but increases as travel increases,” said the Mayo Clinic.

“If you have risk factors for blood clots and you’re concerned about travelling, talk with your doctor.”

This is the action you can take, according to the health experts: “Drink plenty of fluids. Water is the best liquid for preventing dehydration, which can contribute to the development of blood clots. Avoid alcohol, which contributes to fluid loss.

Cabins on commercial airliners are kept at a humidity level of 20 per cent.

This is five per cent lower than the relative humidity of the Sahara desert, potentially leading to dehydration-related health issues such as headaches and sore throats.

“Secondly, take a break from sitting. Move around the airplane cabin once an hour or so. If you’re driving, stop every hour and walk around the car a couple of times. Do a few deep knee bends.

“Thirdly, fidget in your seat. Flex your ankles every 15 to 30 minutes.

“Lastly, wear support stockings. Your doctor may recommend these to help promote circulation and fluid movement in your legs. Compression stockings are available in a range of stylish colours and textures.

“There are even devices, called stocking butlers, to help you put on the stockings.”


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