Travel health and safety
Deep-vein thrombosis (DVT) is the formation of blood clots within vessels that can obstruct the flow of blood to a vital organ. During air travel, or any other scenario where a person is sitting down for a prolonged period of time, DVT can occur in the lower legs.
Factors that can make you more susceptible to DVT include:
- Increasing age (over 40 years old)
- Previously or currently suffering from malignant cancer*
- Blood disorders which lead to an increased clotting tendency*
- Heart disease or blood vessel disease *
- Personal or family history of DVT or pulmonary embolism*
- Recent surgery or major injury, especially below the waist level*
- Oestrogen hormone therapy, including oral contraception *
- Previous / recent immobilization*
- Depletion of body fluids causing increased blood viscosity
- Varicose veins
*If this applies to you, we suggest you seek the advice of your doctor before flying.
- Pain or tenderness of the calf muscles
- Swelling of the leg, especially if it is only on one side. Most people have a small degree of swelling of both feet after a long journey, but this is often due to the accumulation of water as a result of gravity and will soon recover
- Increased skin temperature and/or redness of the leg
- Dilation of the veins right below the skin of the leg
As the major cause is immobility, you can do quite a lot to reduce this, and hence minimize your risk of getting DVT. Some suggestions are:
- Walk around the cabin, if safe, once every 2-3 hours to break up long periods of immobility. Moving around the cabin during long flights will help to reduce the period of immobility, although this may not always be possible. Any potential health benefits must be balanced against the risk of injury if the aircraft were to experience sudden turbulence.
- Move your legs and feet for 3 or 4 minutes per hour while in your seat to get the muscle pump working and avoid stasis.
- Do some stretching exercises when waiting to use the washroom.
- Avoid wearing tight clothing around the upper thighs and body.
- Don’t place hand luggage where it restricts the movement of legs and feet.
- At risk individuals should consult their doctor about preventive measures which may include consuming low dosage of soluble aspirin, wearing anti-embolism stockings or even taking anti-coagulant therapy for those at highest risks.
- Avoid commencing an air journey in a dehydrated state (e.g. after drinking a lot of alcohol, having a hangover or being exposed to very hot weather for long periods).
- Drinking coffee, tea and alcohol only in moderation as these are diuretics and may cause dehydration.
Our inflight magazine, Discovery, and inflight safety video also includes tips and exercises to do inflight to help prevent DVT.
How can I exercise inflight?
We encourage you to try these simple movements to loosen your muscles next time you fly. If you feel any pain or discomfort while doing any of these exercises, please stop immediately.
1. Start by sitting comfortably, with your seat in an upright position.
2. Rest both feet on the floor. Flex both feet – point your toes upward, and downward – repeating as many times as comfortable.
3. Bend your upper body slightly forward and clasp your hands around one knee. Raise your knee gently towards the chest for a few seconds and then release, placing your foot back on the floor. Continue with the other leg, repeating 5 times on each side.
4. Place your hands under one thigh and gently lift it up towards your chest. Rotate your ankle in a circular motion for 5 seconds before placing back downwards. Continue with the other leg, repeating 5 times on each side.
What if I have a history of DVT or active symptoms?
In case you have a history of suffering from a DVT, please consult with your treating doctor for further advice. If you have active symptoms you will be required to submit a MEDA-form for medical clearance.