DVT stands for Deep Vein Thrombosis, which is what happens when a blood clot forms in one of the major veins in your body. DVT most commonly happens in the leg, but it can also happen in the lower abdomen or pelvis.
It’s pretty rare, with only 1 in every 1,000 people in the UK affected by DVT every year, but your risk of getting DVT increases if you’re unwell or immobile for long periods of time. Because of this, you should stay extra aware when on a long haul flight, bus, train or car journey.
You’re more at risk of a DVT on a long flight because there’s likely to be pressure pushing from the edge of your seat onto your leg, and because the caffeine and alcohol you might enjoy makes you dehydrated. With those blockbuster movies keeping you glued to the seat, you’re also less likely to want to get up and stretch your legs. However, it only takes a few minutes to avoid the risk of DVT when travelling. Follow our handy DVT guide to make sure you’re aware of the warning signs and how to avoid them even while you’re deep in ‘flight mode’!
Who can get deep vein thrombosis?
First off, anyone at all can get DVT. Blood clots aren’t common, but your chance of getting one rises if you’re not moving for long periods of time or if you’re dehydrated. DVT becomes more common with age, but is generally something that happens if you’re inactive for any reason.
Because of this, there are groups of people who have to be even more careful to avoid it. People are at higher risk of DVT if they:
- are pregnant
- have a long-term illness
- have had DVT before
- have a family history of blood clots
- are very overweight
- are over 40
How can I tell if I’ve got a DVT?
Sometimes a DVT will show no symptoms at all, but this is rare. To make sure you’re clued up on what to look for, some warning signs are:
- pain in your leg or around the pelvis
- swelling and tenderness
- a heavy ache
- warm skin
DVT most commonly affects the calf of one leg, but this isn’t always the case. If you think you’ve got a DVT, see a doctor as quickly as possible.
DVT itself is painful, but the worry is that some of the clot could break off, travel around the body’s bloodstream and block a blood vessel in the heart or lungs in what’s called a pulmonary embolism, which can sometimes be fatal.
If you get a pulmonary embolism, you might feel breathless, collapse suddenly and have chest pains which get worse when breathing in. Both DVT and pulmonary embolism are serious conditions, so if you think you’ve had a clot, make sure to see a GP as soon as possible.
How can I avoid a DVT while travelling?
The main ways to avoid getting a DVT are to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and to stay mobile. If you’re about to travel on a long flight and think you’re more at risk, choose an aisle seat making it easier to get up and exercise your legs whenever you can. Some simple exercises can make all the difference. You don’t need to start your own airline yoga class to stay mobile while travelling: a few stretches and a walk along the aisle will do!
Drinking lots of water on a long trip is very important: passengers often get dehydrated on planes as the air can be dry and because they’re drinking caffeine or alcohol. If you’re dehydrated your blood gets thicker than usual and is thereby more likely to clot. It’s a good idea to make sure you’ve always got a bottle of water on hand when you’re travelling.
Anti-embolism socks or stockings (AES) can also help reduce the risk of DVT. Be careful to come to a specialist from your local Superdrug Travel Clinic first to choose the right type and size for you. Wearing an ill-fitting AES could actually increase your chances of getting DVT, so you must be sure that you have them fitted by an expert.
Myth: taking an aspirin before a flight removes the risk of DVT.
In actual fact, aspirin is only proven to stop blood clots forming in your arteries and does nothing at all for your veins. There’s no medical evidence to suggest that aspirin helps guard against Deep Vein Thrombosis, so don’t bother taking that pre-flight pill!
5 tips to avoid a DVT when flying
- Travelling with friends or family? Take turns to remind each other to stretch your legs and toes.
- If you’re on your own, set an hourly reminder on your phone (in flight mode!) to exercise your legs so you don’t forget.
- If you’re drinking alcohol or caffeine, challenge yourself to match every drink you have with a glass of water.
- Before you tuck into your in-flight meal, why not stretch your legs by taking a trip to the bathroom to wash your hands first?
- For every blockbuster film you watch, try to drink one glass of water and take a quick, full body stretch (taking care of the person in the seat next to you!)