Long distance flight: Do not be a couch potato

Joel, a 42-year-old healthy male, active in sports, with no known health issues. He traveled to Thailand with two of his friends on vacation back in 2013. According to Joel, a week into their stay in Thailand, his lower back started to ache.

He didn’t think much of it and ignored it. Then, on their last week of vacation, he noticed his legs started to swell and within a few hours the pain and swelling were so severe that he could no longer walk.

His right leg became discolored and for the next two days, him as his friends went to different hospitals in Thailand in order to get a diagnosis. It was difficult to get a diagnosis, but finally, one hospital examined him using a doppler, and test results confirmed he had deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a condition in which a blood clot develops in a deep vein in the body. 

Imagine being thousands of miles from home with a severe DVT.  Joel was promptly placed on anticoagulants blood thinners to prevent the clots from getting bigger. He told me he had slept through the long flight to his destination. 

Risk of developing a blot clot is rare, even for long distance travel. The biggest danger is that a clot will break free and lodge in one of the pulmonary arteries supplying blood to the lungs. This is a medical emergency and can lead to death. Symptoms include rapid breathing, pain when breathing, shortness of breath, chest pain that travels up to the shoulder, fever, and fainting. 

Risks for developing travel-associated blood clot

  • Older age (risk increases after age 40)
  • Obesity
  • Recent surgery or injury (within 3 months)
  • Use of estrogen-containing contraceptives (for example, birth control pills, rings, patches)
  • Hormone replacement therapy (medical treatment in which hormones are given to reduce the effects of menopause)
  • Pregnancy and the postpartum period (up to 3 months after childbirth)
  • Previous blood clot or a family history of blood clots
  • Active cancer or recent cancer treatment
  • Limited mobility (for example, a leg cast)
  • Catheter placed in a large vein
  • Varicose veins

Reduce risks:

Talk with your healthcare provider if you think you may be at risk for blood clots. If you have had a previous blood clot, or if a family member has a history of blood clots

Move your legs frequently when on long trips and exercise the calf muscles to improve the flow of blood. Get up from your seat and walk up and down the aisle at least once an hour. 

If you’re pregnant, request an aisle seat so that you can get up easily.

If you have any risk factors blood clots, consult your healthcare provider. He or she may suggest support compression stockings

Drink at least 8 ounces of water every hour or two and avoid alcohol, caffeinated beverages, and salty foods.

Keep the space under the seat in front of you empty so you can exercise your feet and ankles occasionally.

Take baby aspirin (81 mg) 1 hour 30 minutes before takeoff. (make sure you are not at risk for bleeding and can tolerate aspirin

14 thoughts on “Long distance flight: Do not be a couch potato

  1. Thanks for this information.infact i flew from karachi to melboune.n i had very severe muscle cramps.as i was not walking n not drinking water as to avoid the bathrooms.

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