March 3, 2014 (Scottsdale, AZ)
People who travel frequently by airplane may be at risk for a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism (PE). DVT is a condition when a blood clot forms deep in the veins of the lower extremities. Doctors diagnose DVT in 600,000 Americans each year according to Webmd.com. When a part of the blood clot breaks off and travels to the lungs, this is known as a pulmonary embolism. PE’s can be life threatening if left untreated. A condition that involves DVT and PE is referred to as a venous thromboembolism (VTE).
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) more than 300 million people travel on long-distance flights each year. You could be at risk of developing VTE if you already have pre-existing health factors. Longer flights can increase risk. When you fly, your mobility is decreased due to the confining cabin of the plane, therefore passengers tend to sit more and not move their legs. The same risks exist in other types of travel, like long bus rides, car trips and train trips. The longer the trip and the more pre-existing conditions you have, the more increased your risk.
Risk Factors for VTE include:
- Being over 40 years old
- Estrogen use
- Previous VTE
- Active cancer
- Serious medical illness – congestive heart failure or inflammatory bowel disease
- Recent surgery, hospitalization or trauma
- Limited mobility
- Central venous catheterization
An additional risk when flying is the size of the airplane seat. This risk increases for shorter people and taller people. Because airplane seat cannot be adjusted, shorter passengers may experience seat-edge pressure and taller passengers have less leg room to stretch and move their legs.
Symptoms of a DVT and PE:
- Pain and tenderness
- Increase warmth in the affected area
- Redness on the overlying skin
- Unexplained shortness of breath
- Pleuritic chest pain
Tips for long travel, to help prevent DVT, PE and VTE:
- Do frequent calf muscle exercises. Point your toes up toward your head so that the calves of your legs are stretched, then relax. Repeat. This exercise is especially important to do when you are sitting for long periods of time.
- Try to get an aisle seat. This will allow you to get up and move more frequently.
- Try to get up and walk around the plane frequently when able.
Lower your risks for these conditions by exercising regularly. Walking, swimming and biking are great activities. Manage your weight and don’t smoke. Get your blood pressure checked regularly. If you’re at risk, you can consult with your doctor about using special stockings called compression stockings. These special stockings can help prevent clots.
According to the CDC, the time window for DVT and VTE can be from anytime right after travel, up to four weeks later. If you experience any of the symptoms mentioned during or after a flight, be sure to seek medical help immediately.