Blood clots – a real pain in the leg

A life-threatening event which may result in many dangerous consequences, including a stroke or heart attack

A couple of years back we had a calamitous journey back on Air India from a wonderful two-week tour of India. Without going through the nitty-gritty of this trip the result was that I was stuck in a window seat for 19 hours.

Anyway, a couple of days after getting home I was having a lot of pain in the back of my right calf and decided to visit my doctor’s office who immediately sent me to have an ultrasound scan on my calf. I was diagnosed with Deep Vein Thrombosis, a blood clot, medically referred to as an embolism, in my leg. Needless to say, that was scary news.

Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) occurs from a blood clot that forms deep in your leg. While blood clots can occur at any time, some individuals are more likely to get DVT. The blood clot that forms deep in a vein in the lower leg or thigh is a deep vein thrombosis.

Symptoms of DVT include:

  • Pain.
  • Swelling.
  • Warmth in the affected area.
  • Leg redness.
  • No symptoms at all, until a more serious condition arises related to the DVT, such as a lung clot, called a pulmonary embolism.

The only symptom I had was the pain – so if you get any of these symptoms after a long journey, go and see your doctor.

Causes

Some people are more prone to getting an embolism than others. If a person sits for long stages of time, has recently broken a bone or had surgery, or has recently had a long trip where they had to stay seated, they are more apt to develop a blood clot.

Another thing that can add you your risk of developing a blood clot is a defective gene called V Leiden, which you can inherit from your parents. You are most likely to inherit one copy, which is fairly bad or on rare occasions two copies (one from each parent). People who have inherited factor V Leiden from only one parent have a 5 per cent chance of developing an abnormal blood clot by age 65.

You can get a blood test to find out whether you have the V Leiden gene. It is worth knowing.

Avoiding DVT whilst flying

The thing you are trying to prevent is the development of a blood clot – so you need to make sure that you keep your blood circulatory system working efficiently. A lot of people develop DVT whilst flying but it could also happen on a long car journey or riding a long-distance bus. Here are some ways you can help avoid DVT.

 When booking a long-distance flight, say in excess of 4 hours try sitting in an exit row or bulkhead seat to increase legroom. Many airlines now charge extra for this. If you can afford to spend a bit extra then you should splash the cash. You will also likely have to plan and book your flight many months in advance.  Recently I have booked my long haul flights 9 to 12 months ahead of time to make sure I get the extra legroom seats!

 

Wearing compression socks or stockings is also something that can help with circulation during a long flight and will stop swelling in the calves and feet. In the past, these were hard to get hold of, expensive and to be honest really ugly. But today with growing popularity – they are available through many outlets and in some zany designs.

 

 When I was diagnosed with my DVT I was put on prescription blood thinners. I have tried two; Xarelto and Eliquis. Many people who have issues with blood clots are on these for life. Luckily, my doctors think my risk is when I travel (this is when I had my 2 blood clots) so now I only take them when I travel. I usually start 1 week before travel and one week after. So, if I am on a 2-week trip, I take a 30 day supply starting 1 week before I leave.

 

Probably the best thing you can do to prevent DVT on a long haul flight is to do exercises for your feet and legs. Some folks advocate just moving your feet in a circular movement. My doctor suggested something more rigorous – you need to get your heart pumping. Now when I fly I get up and move around with vigour – including walking up a down – for 10 minutes minimum every 90 minutes

 

 Another thing to remember is that flying tends to dehydrate your body, which can cause your blood to thicken. To prevent dehydration, drink an 8-ounce glass of water every two hours. It’s wise to avoid drinking too much coffee and alcohol as they will tend to dehydrate your body. Also, drinking lots of water will make you go to the bathroom. Which of course is exercise!

 

The above suggestions seem to be the most recommended ways for the prevention of DVT during a long flight.

I have had two cases of DVT after long-haul flights and they are no fun. They can result in life-threatening conditions – but in any case, it is a good idea to avoid having to take blood thinners for months or years to remove the clots. If you have an accident whilst on blood thinners you could be in trouble from excessive bleeding! So, prevention is the best option!

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