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DVT and air travel or the ‘Economy Class Syndrome'
(courtesy of the VSSGBI, for more information contact vascularsociety.org.uk via the links page)

Flow within the major veins is reduced during long periods of sitting, and if the blood is ‘sticky’ clots can form. There is growing evidence that long haul travel is associated with an increased risk of deep vein thrombosis, or a clot in the major deep leg veins.

The risk of a DVT probably increases whether the travel is by car, coach, air or train.

We know that the following groups of people are at a greater risk of developing a DVT after major surgery:

  • Having had a DVT or pulmonary embolism before

  • Having had a recent major operation

  • Pregnancy

  • The contraceptive pill

  • hormone replacement therapy (HRT)

  • Malignant disease (cancer)

  • Obesity (being overweight)
  • Tips to reduce the risk of a DVT

    1. Move your legs.
    • Don’t sit with your legs bent for hours on end. Stretch your legs out from time to time, and move your feet up and down at the ankles. Stand up to stretch the legs now and then. Stretching and moving the legs stops blood stagnating in the deep veins of the calf, and is the simplest and most effective thing you can do.

    • Go for a walk up and down the aisle.

    2. Don’t get dehydrated.
    • Drink plenty of fluid – water is ideal.

    • Avoid excessive alcohol, which tends to cause dehydration.

    3. Wear compression stockings.
    • Graduated compression stockings reduce the risk of DVT. They also help to prevent the ankle swelling which many people experience on long journeys.

    • BELOW KNEE stockings are the most comfortable kind, and seem just as effective as full length stockings.

    • Medical graduated compression stockings are supplied in three classes: Class 1 or Class 2 stockings are suitable for most people (Class 3 are excessively strong for this purpose).

    • Compression stockings can be prescribed by a doctor if there is a medical need. They can be bought at chemists, surgical appliance specialists, and now at some other shops, for example in airports.

    • These stockings come in a range of sizes, and your legs will need to be measured to get the right fitting.

    • People who have trouble with the arteries of their legs should seek medical advice before using compression stockings.

    4. Aspirin.

    Taking an aspirin tablet (either a 75mg “junior aspirin” or a normal 300mg aspirin tablet) a few hours before a long journey may provide a small amount of extra protection against DVT.

    5. Anticoagulants.

    Special anticoagulant drugs (e.g. heparin injections, or warfarin by mouth) may be advisable for a few people who have medical conditions with a particularly high risk for DVT. This kind of treatment will always be on the explicit advice of a doctor.

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