Blood Clots

Blood Clots in Travellers

(Deep Vein Thrombosis – DVT.)

Clots forming in the lower legs, known a Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) are a potential risk for long distance travel especially flying. If untreated there is a risk that the clot can extend, and parts of it break off and travel to the lungs where they can cause a blockage (Pulmonary Embolus or PE). If the clot blocks off a large part of the lung this can be fatal.

Am I at Risk of clots?

Long distance travel has been associated with an increased risk of forming clots and generally travel longer than 4 hours is considered significant. Clots form due to immobilisation of the legs especially with compression of the leg veins for a long time sitting in a plane but they can also occur with other travel such as buses or trains.

For most people the risk of forming a clot during travel is very low. Certain medical problems and conditions may increase the risk of forming a clot and for some people they will need to take special precautions.

If you have had a clot yourself or if people in your family have suffered from DVT or PE it is worth talking to a doctor about measures to take when flying. Women who are pregnant are at increased risk, as are those taking oestrogen containing contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy. Older age, obesity, recent surgery or significant illness and cancer all increase the risk of clotting.

What can I do to reduce my risk?

You can reduce your risk of clotting by staying active while travelling – if you are flying or in long-haul overland travel you should ensure you get up and walk around regularly and do calf exercises. Sitting in an aisle seat and avoiding alcohol and sedating drugs may also help.

People with one or more risk factors should consider using Graduated Compression Stockings – these are specialised stockings that have higher pressure the further down they go so they push the blood up out of the legs. Ordinary stockings tend to be tightest at the top to hold them up and this can possibly increase the risk of clotting. It is important to get the right size for your legs. Our nurses can measure you up for stockings or they can be fitted at the Antidote Gardens Pharmacy or Antidote North Pharmacy.

People with an increased risk of clotting should consult with their Doctor or a Travel Doctor on whether they need to take any other measures. Sometimes medication is prescribed to reduce your clotting risk. This often carries a slight increased risk of bleeding so it would only be appropriate for people at a higher risk of DVT. There are a variety of different medications that can be used and your doctor will be able to help make the right choice for your situation.

How will I know if I get a clot?

With a DVT you will have a painful swollen lower leg (usually only one leg at a time.) With PE people feel chest pain, worse with breathing and shortness of breath. If any of these problems occur you should seek urgent medical care.