Are you at the risk of developing a blood clot during frequent long distance travel? Definitely yes! A number of studies have been conducted for the past 50 years, and have shown that travel, especially flying is closely associated with the development of blood clots that can be extremely life-threatening.
Research has revealed that individuals who travel often, taking flights that are about 4 hours or even more are at 3 times the risk of a blood clot. This is primarily because immobility is one of the major reasons for the development of a condition known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT). This condition is popularly called the ‘economy class syndrome’ primarily because of the extremely cramped seating arrangement on flights.
A blood clot may be defined as a group of blood cells that are quite sticky and come together when a blood vessel of the body is damaged. Blood clots occur in the body to prevent bleeding. They may also occur in case there is a change in the blood composition or a blockage. DVT is the result of a blood clot that may occur in the deep veins of one’s body, generally the legs when travelling.
If the blood clot remains untreated it can separate and travel to the lungs resulting in a pulmonary embolism, which can be extremely fatal. The blood clot may break apart and travel to another organ of the body as well, blocking the flow of blood and resulting in a stroke or a heart attack. A clot sometimes also occurs in the eye, which may disrupt vision causing sudden blindness.
Some other factors apart from a long period of travelling that increase the risk of DVT include obesity, an individual’s stature, the kind of oral contraceptive that the individual is taking and if the person has any form of inherited clotting disorders. Travelling in combination with one or more of the above-mentioned risk factors can increase the risk of DVT up to 20% to 50%.
But, DVT is a risk that is quite manageable only if frequent travellers are well aware of the condition and how to prevent it. When it comes to minimizing the risk of developing a blood clot while travelling, some precautions can be taken. For instance, if you are at a risk of DVT you should choose your flight seat carefully. Opt for an aisle seat or pay a bit extra cash and choose a seat with more leg space. It is always better to inform the airline about your condition. If the crew is aware they will create less fuss and allow you to move around the flight when it is airborne. You should also ensure that you travel comfortably. Wearing comfortable, loose-fitting clothes are the key to effective blood flow in the body during a flight. So much so that even ensure that your footwear is comfortable and light.
While travelling long distance on a flight, ensure that you are drinking plenty of water and other fluids. Hydrating yourself properly will definitely reduce the chances of any complications. Avoid alcohol instead enjoy a glass of juice!
Moreover, keep massaging your legs and hands to improve blood circulation in the body. You can carry a tennis ball and keep rubbing it over the leg muscles to help them relax.
If you are on a flight and happen to feel symptoms like shortness of breath, pain in the chest, rapid heartbeat, lightheaded, anxious or suddenly start coughing up blood immediately seek help. If you are taking medication for DVT, always carry it with you when travelling.
By: Dr. Anil Ramakrishna, Consultant – Neurologist, Columbia Asia Hospital, Hebbal