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DVT : Tips to Avoid the Eisk of the Economy Class Syndrome

Deep Vein Thrombosis - Blood Clots
How DVT is Associated with Long Distance Travel

Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) may be associated with any form of long distance travel whether by air, car, coach or train but it is often referred to as "economy class syndrome" when it occurs to airline passengers.

The following information provides a brief overview of the problem and advice on how to avoid this risk.

What is deep vein thrombosis?

Deep vein thrombosis is a condition where a thrombus or blood clot forms within a deep vein, typically one in the thigh or the calf. This blood clot can either partially or completely block the flow of blood in the vein. In extreme cases, this clot can break free from a vein wall and travel to the lung and block an artery. This pulmonary embolism(PE) could lead to serious injury or death. In pregnant women, this kind of embolism could lodge in the placenta and put the fetus at risk.

How do you get deep vein thrombosis?

Deep vein thrombosis is a problem that is caused by pooling of blood in the vein, which triggers blood-clotting mechanisms. Anyone who sits for long periods of time in a vehicle, movie theater, or even an office desk may develop clumps of clotted blood in the legs. Airline passengers in coach seating are particularly vulnerable because of the sometimes dense seating and limited ability to get up and move around. However, even passengers in business and first class are at risk.

How serious is DVT?

One in every hundred people who develop DVT dies. Treatment of DVT and PE is with blood-thinning drugs or anticoagulants, including warfarin and heparin. Aspirin in low doses also acts as a blood thinning drug and is used to prevent clotting conditions in the arteries like coronary thrombosis. Its benefit in preventing DVT is debatable. DVT combined with PE or other blood clots is often referred to as Venous Thrombo-Embolism or VTE.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may vary widely. A mild case may have no symptoms.
When symptoms do occur, they could include the following:

  • Tenderness and redness in the affected area

  • Pain and swelling in areas drained by the vein where the blood clot is located

  • Fever

  • Cramps

  • Rapid heart beat

  • Sudden, unexplained cough

  • Joint pain and soreness

    Am I at risk?

    If you have at least one of the following conditions, you may be at higher risk:

    • Over the age of 60

    • Recent accident, surgery, or other trauma

    • Coronary artery disease

    • Smoking

    • Pregnancy

    • Obesity

    • Use of oral contraceptives

    • Family history of clotting problems

    What can I do about it?

    There are several things that you can do to reduce your risk:

    • Wear clothing that may help your circulation

    • wear graduated compression stockings (TEDs). This is important for travelers who have other risk factors for DVT

    • Get up and move around at least once an hour

    • If you have to remain seated, flex your ankles and move your feet in a circular motion.

    • Drink plenty of water before and during the flight

    • Limit your in-flight alcohol consumption

    • Don't cross your legs or ankles

    • Seek medical advice before traveling if you feel that you may be at risk

    Some doctors recommend taking aspirin before traveling because of its blood thinning effects. But it is not suitable for children and can have side effects. If in doubt, seek advice from a pharmacist or doctor.

    People who have one or more of the risk factors mentioned earlier should seek medical advice before traveling.

    Anyone who develops swelling or pain in the leg, or breathing problems after traveling should seek medical advice urgently.