Simon Calder shares warning about summer holidays

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Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot that develops within a deep vein and can be caused by prolonged periods of inactivity on a flight. The condition normally impacts a leg or pelvis.

Professor Mark Whiteley is a leading venous surgeon and the founder of The Whiteley Clinic.

He suggested staying hydrated can help to lower the risk of developing DVT on a long-haul flight.

Professor Whiteley said: “Dehydration affects the constituents of the blood, making blood thicker and more sticky.

“To avoid becoming dehydrated, it is important to drink plenty of fluids including water, diluted squash, herbal teas and fruit juice while flying, especially if you have other risk factors for blood clots.

“Tea and coffee have caffeine which actually causes you to lose water. Hence these and alcohol can make dehydration worse and should be consumed at a minimum on flights.”

Professor Whiteley told he would advise wearing properly fitted compression stockings to ensure these are comfortable and the correct size.

He continued: “These speed up the flow of blood in veins and therefore reduce the risk of blood clotting.

“Research has confirmed that such travel socks reduce the risk of developing a DVT and you can buy them from suppliers on the internet.

“Keep as active as possible when flying by doing some simple stretching exercises and going for a walk up and down the cabin aisle at least once per hour, particularly on a long flight of over four hours.”

A spokesperson from AXA Global Healthcare said that sitting comfortably will also help passengers stretch their legs on a flight.

They said: “Put your bag in the locker rather than under your seat.

“Your body will appreciate the extra leg room and if you need to get something else out – the extra movement will also do you good.

“You could even book ahead to secure seats with extra leg room. If you’ve got any back pain, sit upright with support, such as a small cushion, in the small of your back. 

“Your knees and hips should be level and your feet should be flat on the floor.”

The risk of DVT increases with the duration of a flight and when the cabin has low pressure.

Professor Whiteley said the risk for healthy people is one per 4,656 flights lasting over four hours while the risk increases to one in 1,264 for flights over 16 hours.

He added: “The risk is further increased in individuals with other risk factors, such as those with a family history of DVT, large varicose veins, cancer, who are pregnant, or who have undergone major surgery.”

DVT warning signs

  • Painful, or tender leg for no obvious reason – can be above knee, below knee or both
  • Swelling of ankle, ankle and calf, ankle, calf and thigh or even the whole leg
  • A heavy ache in the leg – especially on standing or walking
  • Warm skin in area of swelling
  • Sometimes the skin can be a bit redder, but this is less common

Professor Whiteley said DVT can occasionally affect both legs but would usually just impact one.

He said in about half of DVT patients there will be no symptoms but people should visit a venous specialist if they are worried.

He added: “If DVT is diagnosed and treated immediately, in the majority of cases the clot will be dissolved, and the vein will return to normal.”

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