Frequent Flyers and Deep Vein Thrombosis

Frequent Flyers and Deep Vein Thrombosis
A deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot in one of the deep veins such as the veins found in your thighs or lower legs. It can block blood flow causing pain and swelling. If part of the blood clot breaks loose, it can travel to your lungs where it can block a lung artery cutting off oxygen to your lungs or other organs. This is known as a pulmonary embolism (PE).

The Office of the Surgeon General estimates that 350,000 to 600,000 Americans suffer from DVT and PE each year. Of these events, approximately 100,000 people die. Those at risk are individuals with inherited blood clotting disorders, other risk factors, or those who experience triggering events such as hospitalization, surgery, or long periods of immobility such as taking long flights. Yet the development of DVT’s and PE’s may be prevented and treated.

DVT’s and PE’s can affect men or women, and the risk increases with age, with 50 being the year that incidence tends to spike. According to the Surgeon General, the signs and symptoms of a DVT/PE include:

Swelling in one leg or along a vein in the leg
Pain or tenderness in on leg (may be felt standing or walking)
Red or discolored skin in one leg
Unexplained shortness of breath
Coughing up blood

Although the risk of developing a DVT or PE while flying is small, the risk increases if the travel time equals more than four hours, or if you suffer from other risk factors. Unfortunately, sometimes there are no symptoms at all.

Preventative tips during long flights include:

Take frequent walks up and down the aisles
Move and flex and/or stretch your legs often while you’re sitting
Raise and lower you heels, keep your toes on the floor
Raise and lower toes while keeping heels on the floor
Do isometric exercises by tightening and releasing your leg muscles
Drink plenty of fluids (blood thickens with dehydration)
Avoid alcohol and caffeine (they contribute to dehydration)

If you are predisposed to thrombotic events, your doctor may recommend compression stockings or a dose of heparin or other blood thinning medication during/prior to flight.

Other risk factors that may be attributed to DVTs and PEs include expsosure to birth control methods. Recently, reports have linked DVT, PE, stroke, blood clots and gallbladder removal to the use of YAZ, Yasmin, and Ocella oral contraceptives. For legal facts and information, see

Discuss with your doctor if in fact you feel you might be at a higher risk for developing a DVT while flying. Traveling for business brings its own set of challenges, keeping your health in check will help you manage stress and unfortunate and even life threatening events while on the road.

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