Prevent Leg Vein Blood Clots While Traveling
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Prevent Leg Vein Blood Clots While Traveling

TravelerÂ’s thrombosis can be a painful and sometimes dangerous condition. Learn how to prevent leg vein clots while traveling.

You’ve probably heard of the increasing reports of leg vein blood clots associated with air travel. These refer to the growing concern about a condition known as deep venous thrombosis (DVT). DVTs are most significant because of the pain and swelling it can cause in the affected leg, and the well-known potentially fatal complication of pulmonary embolism. Pulmonary embolism is when a clot breaks free and migrates to the lung where it can cause the blockage of blood flow through the lung.

Most clinical research studies conducted in recent years on the incidence of deep venous thrombosis have come to very similar conclusions. First, seated immobility is a significant risk factor and that this may be the result of a car, bus, train or air journey or even your office chair. The mechanism is thought to be due to blood flow becoming stagnant during prolonged sitting and aggravated by compression from the edges of seats. The aircraft cabin environment per se does not appear to be a factor in the development of what has come to be called traveler’s thrombosis.

Our blood normally flows continuously without clotting. Immobility is the chief cause of leg vein clots that can loosen and be carried to the lung. Loose clots are called emboli the Greek name for plugs. Prolonged travel, lying anesthetized on the operating table for surgery, or prior damage to the veins can interfere with the free flow of blood and cause clots that can endanger your life. Large clots can kill by breaking off and blocking the flow of blood to the lungs. They usually form in the legs, particularly the thigh region.

Deep venous thrombosis occurs in approximately 2 out of 1,000 people. This condition is most commonly seen in adults over age 60. DVT progresses to pulmonary embolism in 20% of untreated people, and is fatal in 10-20% of these. The symptoms of a blood clot may appear in 5 to 13 hours. The earliest symptoms of DVT include a dull ache in one leg, followed by swelling, tenderness, inflammation and pain. Symptoms of pulmonary embolism are chest pain, shortness of breath and cough.

The three general categories of risk for DVT are decreased blood flow in the veins, vein wall injury, and clotting problems. There are also a number of specific risk factors and medical conditions that are important making some people more susceptible than others to develop DVT. These include recent trauma, birth control or hormone replacement medication, pregnancy, recent surgery, abnormalities of clotting, varicose veins, and cigarette smoking. If you have any of these risk factors we recommend you discuss these with your physician when planning your journey. Your doctor will be able to provide detailed advice tailored to your circumstances and needs.

There are a number of specific things that all air travelers can do to reduce the likelihood of traveler’s thrombosis. The most important is to keep mobile during the flight so try and move about the cabin as much as you can. Preventive exercises can easily be performed in your seat area. The aim is to improve your circulation, especially in the legs, and to minimize the tiredness and stiffness that may result from sitting in one place for a long time.

Reduced blood flow may lead to DVT. Although most of the scientific research relates to hospital patients during the period immediately after surgery, it is clear that prolonged immobility can often be a key factor in the development of a blood clot. Specific studies examining traveler's thrombosis have looked particularly at how many DVT sufferers have traveled in the weeks preceding their diagnosis. It is clear from these studies that there is indeed an association between long journeys and the occurrence of DVT. However, thromboses can occur after car, bus, rail or air travel and there is no conclusive evidence that flying in itself is a specific risk factor. In addition, at least 75% of DVTs occurred in passengers who already had at least one of the risk factors listed.

Use these strategies to prevent DVT. Drink enough fluids, since aircraft cabin air is dry. Avoid smoking, since smoking increases the risk of clotting. Avoid alcohol which increases dehydration. Limit carry-on baggage to allow room under the seat in front of you. Avoid crossing your legs when seated, compression reduces blood flow. Walk around the cabin about once an hour. Do in-seat exercises using a handout that may be available by the airline. Wear loose fitting, comfortable clothes. Compression stockings may improve the blood return to the body from the lower legs. Aspirin may be helpful in reducing the risk of DVT. Check with your doctor. Travel in comfort and have a safe trip!

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Comments (1)

Very good learning for someone who travels like me. Thanks for the share. Voted up.

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