Enduring a long-haul flight will probably leave you feeling stiff and tired at the best of times – but the experience of sitting in cramped conditions for several hours could also lead to a deadly health condition.
Blood clots play an important role in our bodies and can save our lives by helping to control bleeding, but they can also cause serious health issues. Also called Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) when located in a vein typically in the leg, blood clots occur when blood flow is slowed or stopped, and can prove fatal if not treated quickly.
Clots can occur when circulation is affected by sitting still for long periods of time without moving, meaning that long flights of four hours or more are a particular risk. There are several factors that can increase your chances of developing a blood clot – but there are also easy ways that you can help to prevent it, including when you’re flying, according to Healthline.
What are the symptoms of a blood clot?
According to the NHS, the main symptoms of a blood clot include:
- Throbbing or cramping pain, swelling, redness and warmth in a leg or arm
- Sudden breathlessness, sharp chest pain (may be worse when you breathe in) and a cough or coughing up blood
If you experience these symptoms, call 111 straight away and they will be able to advise you further. Call 999 or go to A&E immediately if someone has passed out or is struggling to breathe, as this could indicate a blood clot in the lungs, also called a pulmonary embolism.
What increases your risk of blood clots?
Blood clots are rare in young, healthy people. The NHS explains that you are more likely to get them if you:
- Are overweight
Are using combined hormonal contraception such as the combined pill, contraceptive patch or vaginal ring
- Are pregnant or have just had a baby
- Have had a blood clot before
Are staying in or recently left hospital – especially if you cannot move around much (like after an operation)
- Have an inflammatory condition such as Crohn’s disease or rheumatoid arthritis
How can you help prevent blood clots?
Here is some general advice from the NHS on how you can reduce your risk of developing blood clots:
- Stay active – taking regular walks can help
- Drink plenty of water – you’re more likely to develop a clot if you’re dehydrated
- Try to lose weight if you’re overweight
Avoid drinking lots of alcohol
- Don’t sit for long periods of time without moving
And when it comes to long flights, here are some additional measures you can take:
Don’t stay still: When on the plane, it’s advised to get up and walk around at least once per hour – and exercise your calf muscles while seated. You can do this by extending your legs straight and flexing your ankles upward. Space permitting, you can bring your knee up to your chest and place your hands on your calf and hold for around 15 seconds.
Massage your leg muscles: Massage is a great way to boost circulation. You could always take a tennis or lacrosse ball on board with you. While seated, simply push the ball into your thigh and roll it up and down your leg. You can also pop the ball under your leg and wiggle it around.
Avoid urge to cross your legs: We all do it, but be mindful that it can reduce blood circulation.
Pick a spacious seat if possible: If you can, select an aisle or ‘bulkhead’ seat (that part of the airplane that separates different sections) or you can always pay more for extra legroom.
Wear compression socks: Wearing these can help better blood circulation in your legs while sitting in a plane. It’s important to note there are multiple types of compression socks – so ask your doctor if you’re unsure.
- Tell your airline: If you are susceptible to blood clots, it might be an idea to tell the airline about this before you fly. This could make it easier for you to move around the plane.
Take medication: Depending on your health history, your doctor may recommend you take certain medication to decrease your risk. These can include taking a blood thinner or aspirin ahead of flight time.
- Wear loose clothing: Non-constricting garments will help with your blood flow, as tight clothing could cause blockages.
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