Causes of Deep Vein Thrombosis
should you be on a plane after dvt?
Since I used to travel a lot, my attention has always been drawn to incidents of people who have died suddenly onboard aircraft. The culprit? Deep vein thrombosis. This discovery prompted me to research deeper into the condition and what I found out about the causes of deep vein thrombosis was both alarming and at the same time, liberating. Freedom in the sense that with knowledge, my fear levels when travelling are far lower.
How it’s caused
So, what is deep vein thrombosis and how is it linked to travelling? DVT is a condition in which a blood clot occurs deep in a vein within a muscle. The clot is also referred to as a thrombus. This comes as a result of the way blood is pumped around the body by the heart. When the heart pumps blood, it is full of the oxygen that the cells need in order to carry out their various functions.
The arteries are the highway through which this oxygen-rich blood travels. Once the oxygen has been taken up by the cells, the depleted blood has got to travel back for another load of the gas. The highways that it now travels through are the veins. These vessels have valves that ensure that the blood only travels in one direction; towards the lungs and into the heart. The heartbeat pushes the blood forward, and the valves ensure that it does not flow back.
Muscles, especially in the limbs support this movement when they contract and relax as a result of movement. However, if the muscles are inactive, blood might not flow through the veins smoothly and some may collect behind a valve. If this blood forms a clot, it might then travel up the veins and into the lungs.
The blockage of a major lung artery is known as pulmonary embolism. This is a life-threatening condition if not treated immediately. Even, a small clot can cause severe damage to lung tissue. DVT often begins in the legs because they are farthest from the heart. For the blood to travel upward, it has to overcome the force of gravity. If the legs are inactive over a long period, the risk of a blood clot forming is greatly increased.
As a frequent traveller on airplanes, I know that I am going to spend long periods of time immobile with my legs bent at the knee and feet flat on the cabin floor; ideal conditions for chronic DVT. I cannot escape longer distance plane travel as road transport is impossible in my case. Confronting the symptoms of deep vein thrombosis is the only option.
I prefer travelling comfortably and, if possible, first class because a reclining seat reduces the effect of gravity on my legs. For those who have had DVT before, I would recommend breaking up the flight by using connections so that the amount of time spent being inactive is reduced.
There are factors that could predispose one to DVT such as being above 40 years old, obesity, pregnancy, a recent surgery that involves the abdomen or legs, using oral contraceptives, dehydration, and cardio-respiratory diseases. I would recommend talking about your risk factor to your doctor before boarding that plane, especially for long trips.
Risks associated with flying
While travelling by plane, it is usually for longer distances that take many hours. Sitting for such periods can lead to low blood circulation. It is possible for the blood clot to dissolve and disappear on its own, but sometimes this is not the case. This is why it is important to look out for the following DVT risks that are associated with flying. Chronic DVT can lead to lots pain in the chest area, which can leave a person feeling very uncomfortable throughout the flight. It is also possible to experience swelling and redness on the affected leg. The skin will feel warm around the affected area too.
Another serious risk is the possibility of the blood clot moving from the leg and getting in the blood vessels of the lungs; this leads pulmonary embolism (PE).
How to manage DVT to get through a flight
Whenever you are travelling on a plane, there are some things that should be done to keep one safe from any risks of blood clots. These include:
- Be alert and look out for any blood clots symptoms
- Always confer with your doctor before travelling, especially if you already have had any symptoms of deep vein thrombosis or think you might be at risk of getting them. Also, if your family has a history of blood clots, it is good to let your doctor know about it so that you can get to know your risks.
- If anticoagulants have been prescribed for you, make sure you follow your doctor’s advice to the letter
- Let your doctor tell you about the possible ways of preventing blood clots symptoms while on a flight. This can be achieved by wearing graduated compression stockings for varicose veins.
- If your trip will take many hours, make sure to frequently stretch your legs and also exercise the calves for better blood flow. Always take a break to stretch your legs after sitting down for too long. Do some legs flex exercises; you can achieve this by bringing one knee close to your chest and let it rest there for at least 15 seconds while you hold your lower leg in your hands. Do this for at least 10 times to help keep your blood flow steady.
- Avoid taking alcohol and sleeping pills while onboard
- Wear loose clothes for better blood circulation
- Drink lots of water to stay hydrated; water will also keep you on your toes as you will keep going to relieve yourself
- Make sure you have enough space in front of you to stretch your legs fully. You can achieve this by not storing your luggage under the seat.
In conclusion, ensure that you get your doctor’s advice prior to travelling by airplane. If other options such as fast trains are available, it might be wiser to use them. Self-drives also allow one to take breaks and stretch. Alert the flight crew if you have a medical condition or are pregnant. This will allow them to monitor you in case of an emergency. It is recommended that you take shorter flights by breaking up longer ones.
Take good care of yourself!