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Preventing DVT When Flying this Holiday Season

Thousands of people will be boarding planes this holiday season eager to reconnect with loved ones following last year’s pandemic lockdown.

If your travel plans include a long flight (4+ hours), it’s important to recognize the signs of DVT, or deep vein thrombosis, especially if you are already suffering from or are at risk for a deep venous or circulatory disorder.

“The change in air pressure, and limited mobility, while on a plane can sometimes have an adverse effect on the body,” says VeinSolutions’ board-certified vascular surgeon Dr. Jeffrey Apple.  “In rare cases, a condition known as DVT, or a type of serious blood clots, can occur.”

What is DVT?

DVT is when blood clots form in the leg (and less frequently in the arm) due to inactivity or poor circulation. Prolonged sitting in a confined space is common on planes (as well as in cars) which is why air travel can pose a risk for some people who are prone to clotting.

If a blood clot breaks off and travels towards the lungs, it can cause a potentially fatal blockage called a pulmonary embolism.

Symptoms of DVT can include:

  • swelling in the leg
  • tenderness in the leg
  • skin that is warm to the touch
  • bright red skin

These signs can be hard to detect, however, so it is essential to be familiar with them if you are at high risk for blood clots.

Risk Factors for DVT

Those at an increased risk for developing DVT include people who are or have had:

  • Over 40 years old
  • Obese
  • A recent serious injury, surgery or medical procedure
  • Pregnant or undergoing hormone replacement therapy
  • Previous or family history of blood clots
  • Cancer or recent cancer treatments
  • Varicose veins

Five Tips to Prevent DVT When Flying

If you fall into the high risk category, discuss travel plans with your physician before embarking on a lengthy flight. They may suggest blood-thinning medications (anti-coagulants) to prevent clots and/or wearing compression stockings to promote healthy circulation.

Other DVT prevention tips that our vascular surgeons and vein experts recommend include:

  1. Choose an aisle seat or exit row to allow extra room for stretching legs.
  2. Perform simple leg exercises periodically, like ankle circles and small flutter kicks.
  3. Walk up and down the aisles when you can and the pathway is clear.
  4. Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing.
  5. Stay hydrated and drink plenty of water throughout the flight.

If you suspect you have developed DVT while in flight, seek medical attention right away once you are off the plane.

For questions about your potential for blood clots while traveling, or to schedule an appointment with one of our board-certified vascular specialists, please visit us here. In Austin, please call  512.452.VEIN (8346), or for Georgetown, contact us at 512.501.4287.

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