The holiday season means, among other things, an increase in travel. People across the country and around the world are preparing to return home for the festivities, booking flights, purchasing train tickets and gassing up their cars. They will, so as not to miss a moment of family-togetherness, cram themselves into tiny seats for hours on end, standing only when the journey is complete. The trek will leave them with a desperate urge to stretch, a temporary claustrophobia, a sore backside and an increased risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
A condition characterized by the formation of blood clots primarily in the thigh or lower leg, DVT affects nearly two million Americans every year. If left untreated, it can send a blood clot to the lungs causing a pulmonary embolism, a potentially fatal ailment. Those most at risk are the obese, elderly and pregnant, those taking an oral contraceptive or on hormone replacement therapy, anyone with an inherited blood clot disorder and anyone who travels. In fact, it’s so common among travelers that it has been termed the “economy-class syndrome,” a reference to the section’s cramped quarters. However, your class – first, business or economy – has little effect on the likelihood of developing DVT. It’s all about immobility. The longer your sit still the higher your risk. A four hour plane ride (or any ride in tiny seats) increases your chances, threefold. Therefore, it’s important that you take the steps necessary to prevent DVT before and during travel.
Before travel means seeing your doctor and accumulating as much information as possible. You should be aware of the signs and symptoms as well as what your off-plane risk level is. Having a combination of risk factors can increase your likelihood anywhere from 20 to 50 percent. So if you’re obese or taking an oral contraceptive, a six hour plane ride has more potential threat than it would otherwise. You should also consider purchasing a leg exerciser or compression stockings. However, only buy the stockings if they are custom fit. Poorly selected ones can cause more harm than good.
Once you’re on the plane, ignore the urge for alcohol or sleeping pills. Either may calm your mid-air fears, but they will also render you more immobile. What you want to do is move as much as possible. Every hour or so, walk up and down the aisles. When you are sitting, straighten your legs, feet and toes periodically and press the balls of your feet against the floor to increase blood flow. At the end of the trip, take a walk. You’ll be tired and rundown from the journey, but a ten minute jaunt around the terminal will increase your circulation more than collapsing in front of the luggage carousel will.
Take these steps, and you’ll be more likely to have a healthy, mobile post-travel holiday.