Preventing DVT Blood Clots and Leg Cramps During Air Travel

When you do a lot of long distance air travel as a passenger, one thing to worry about is lower leg, deep vein blood clots, also known as thrombosis or DVT deep vein thrombosis. There have been quite a few studies on the relationship of lengthy air travel (prolonged sitting and immobility) and the formation of blood clots (thrombosis) in the legs, but no one can exactly pin down a definite casual relationship. However, DVT is considered a health condition related to air travel.

“Economy-class syndrome” or “travelers’ thrombosis” are just a few of the names given to this condition, which sometimes occurs to travelers on long air flights when their knees become cramped because the legs are too inactive, too low, or the blood flow is too slow. For frequent travelers who don’t exercises, a blood clot can develop in a deep vein, usually in the leg. The symptoms of calf pain, or leg thrombosis, typically occur several days after a long journey due to the clot, and sometimes these clots break away and travel through the bloodstream to cause severe injury or even death. If you develop unexplained leg swelling or tenderness, or leg pain deep in either calf within a few months after a long air flight, please see your physician.

The profile of a traveler most at risk is a  female over forty who has a prior history of deep vein thrombosis. Anyone with a prior history of venous thrombosis, elderly travelers or individuals who are obese, pregnant women, people with varicose veins and people who have gone through a recent leg surgery are also at risk.

What can you do to prevent blood clots? There are no definitive methods, but the general advice is as follows:

(1) Dress in comfortable, loose-fitting clothes and shoes that don’t constrict your body.

(2) Stay well hydrated because cabin air tends to cause dehydration (which reduces blood pressure), but avoid alcohol. The idea is to drink non diuretic fluids, so you want to minimize your caffeine and alcohol intake.

(3) Stretch your body and exercise your legs and feet in the plane aisle whenever you get the opportunity. Try to book an aisle seat where it’s easier to stand up and move around the airplane. In other words, regularly change your leg position. Consider getting up and walking around the aisle whenever possible.

(4) Consider fitted, compression stockings – compression of 20 mm. Hg or more is best.

(5) Consider fish oil supplements that are typically taken to help thin the blood, or nattokinase nutritional supplements that have been shown to dissolve blood clots, before trips.

It’s possible that no measure intended to prevent DVT deep vein thrombosis will prevent it. However, since many of the supplements designed to help with health in general may also help support prevention, that’s about the closest logical and practical tie-in you can get.

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