What is Travel Related Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)?
A Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) is a clotting of the blood in any of the deep veins. This clotting is usually in the calf. If a clot develops, it usually makes its presence known by an intense pain in the affected calf. Medical attention should be sought immediately if this occurs, especially after a long journey. In some cases this can be fatal. If the clot breaks off and makes its way to the lungs it can then affect the lung’s ability to take in oxygen.
What are the symptoms of DVT – How will I know it is a DVT?
A DVT can occur days or even weeks after a trip. In most situations the person will have no symptoms. In many cases through normal movement the clot will break up.
If the clot is larger it can cause an obstruction and prevent the blood flowing through the veins. When this happens a person might experience pain, redness and swelling in the affected area. The affected part of the body might also ache and the skin might be warm to touch. The pain might also feel worse when walking or standing. If these symptoms are experienced urgent medical help is required.
Complications can occur if the cot breaks off and travels to the lungs. If a clot breaks off and travels to the lungs the flow of blood can become blocked. Breathlessness and chest pain can occur hours or days after the clot has formed. This is a potentially fatal condition and urgent medical attention is required.
Who is at risk of DVT?
We have a lot of information from hospital research specific to DVT. We already know that immobility for an extended period of time can increase the risk of DVT with the following factors being added risk factors:
- A personal or family history of DVT
- Active cancer or cancer treatment
- Recent surgery or leg surgery
- Existing clotting abnormality
- Hormones or the oral contraceptive pill
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Varicose veins
- Pregnancy or 2 months post-partum
- Existing Cardiac problems or a history of cardiac problems or stroke
- Severe infection
- Aged over 60
How many people get a DVT?
It is hard to establish just how many people are affected by DVT after travel related activities, as no official records are kept. However it is important to be aware that it is a potential problem for those with risk factors.
How can I prevent DVT when travelling?
Those in a high-risk category should see their travel health advisor or doctor before they travel and discuss prevention.
Those at risk should try to exercise at least every hour on long journeys. Exercise the calf muscles by rotating your ankles, or making use of the commercially available exercise equipment. The risk applies to any form of travel where you are routed to one place for hours at the time.
Good compression hosiery will encourage circulation. However it is important that you do not wear clothing that will cause a restriction of circulation. Any compression hosiery should be measured properly to ensure a suitable fit.
For long flights wear loose clothing. Due to the change in atmospheric pressure in a plane, parts of your body can expand due to increased gas! In the dry environment of a plane, it is a well-documented fact that too much alcohol, tea and coffee on flights can add to the problem of dehydration. It is therefore very important to remain hydrated during a long flight by drinking plenty of water and fruit juices.
Always remember to buy your travel insurance before travel. For travel within Europe (EEA and Switzerland) you can also get a free European Health Insurance Card. When planning a trip take a look at the Pre-Travel Advice to ensure you are fully prepared for a healthy trip.
In-Flight Stockings, Compression Hosiery and DVT Socks
With much attention given over the potential risks associated with Travel Related Deep Vein Thrombosis, it is not surprising that many people are looking for products, which will offer protection. Research has shown that correctly fitting anti-thrombosis stockings or DVT socks increase blood flow, thus lowering the risk of DVT in those at risk. Advice related to stocking/socks should apply to all forms of travel when a passenger is sitting still for a long period of time.
Assess your risk of DVT
- Before buying any products assess your personal risk factors and obtain advice from your own doctor regarding fitness to fly. If you are in a high-risk category you should seek advice from your doctor and consider postponing your travel plans
Get measured properly by a professional
- It is important that any DVT stocking/sock purchased be fitted properly by a professional. A stocking that is too tight and worn by a traveller with existing circulation problems can do more harm than good — cutting into the skin on a long flight and potentially causing ulceration and increased risk of DVT
- Never guess the size stocking or sock you require – ask to be measured properly. A good flight sock will come in a variety of sizes allowing for measurement from the knee to the ankle as well as the foot size. If a stocking is too tight around the knee it will prevent essential venous return causing the blood to pool around the knee.
- When buying your DVT compression hosiery make sure they are comfortable with your chosen footwear for travelling. Some flight stockings can be slightly thicker than normal leg covering and can be potentially restrictive with tight foot wear.
- Do not think that if you wear tight knee-highs during a flight you will save some money. Any clothing or tight shoes cutting into the skin around will prevent normal blood flow and increase the risk of travel related DVT.
- Wear your stockings around the house prior to travel to ensure you have a good, comfortable fitting. On the morning of your travel put them on when you get dressed, especially if you are travelling a distance to the airport. Hurriedly put on stockings in the airport lounge can cause no end of travel related anxiety!
- Flight socks and stockings are just one-way to help prevent travel related DVT – take advice from your doctor as well as preventative advice related to travel.
What can your Doctor, Nurse or Pharmacist do to help?
Your Health professional will be able to help you determine your risk factors and provide you with both advice and written information. They will also be able to guide you as to the best time to travel after an illness or operation.
- Information provided by the Civil Aviation Authority can help you check your fitness to fly
- The World Health Organisation have provided information about the risks of air travel
- Virgin Atlantic in-flight exercises can help you stay flexible while flying
- VR Compression (based in London) can provide individual help to travellers at risk of DVT
Note: This information is designed to complement and not replace the relationship that exists with your existing family doctor or travel health professional. Please discuss your travel health requirements with your regular family doctor or practice nurse.