What do Andrew Gaze, Steve Waugh & Serena Williams all have in common (besides the fact that they are all alite athletes!)? Are you a frequent flyer? What you need to know about DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis):
What is a DVT?
A Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) occurs when a clot (thrombus) forms in one of the deep veins of the body. It most commonly occurs in the leg. It is a serious condition because these clots can break up, circulate through the blood stream and become lodged in a major artery to the lungs (a condition called Pulmonary Embolism) which can be life threatening.
What causes DVT? And why is it more common in our legs?
Blood follows back to your heart via the veins, in an upward direction, i.e. against gravity. When the leg muscle contract and relax they help to pump the blood up towards the heart. This is aided by valves inside the veins, which direct the flow of blood and counteract the effects of gravity.
DVTs are caused by reduced blood flow through the vein, which allows the blood to clot or clump together. So anything that slows the flow of blood through the deep veins can increase the risk of DVT. This includes injury, surgery or long periods of sitting or lying.
Factors that may increase your risk of developing a DVT include:
- Recent surgery, accident or injury
- Contraceptive pill
- Hormone therapy
- Family history of DVT
- Previous DVT
- Heart disease
In other words – Medical conditions that affect how your blood clots and flows can increase your risk of DVT.
Symptoms to look out for (especially if you are at increased risk):
Throbbing ache at rest.
Swelling in one leg or arm but not the other (typically in the lower leg, ankle or foot).
The affected area may feel hot, red or painful to touch.
If you do have any of these symptoms, it’s important to seek medical attention. It is also important to know that DVT can be present without any marked symptoms. If you are aware that you are at increased risk of DVT, discuss this with your doctor before long haul flights.
How is DVT diagnosed?
A thorough physical examination is done to determine whether further investigations are required such as blood tests, ultrasound, CT or an MRI.
So what happens when I take long flights?
The risk of DVT from travel is small. Research suggests that there is approximately one DVT case for every 4,656 flights that last for 4 hours or more. The longer the flight, the more likely you are to get a DVT. But as the statistics suggest, the vast majority of travelers have no problems. Other risk factors (as listed above) have been found to be more significant than air travel alone.
So do those silly looking stockings help? What can you do to help reduce your risk, if you are already at a low risk…?
- Drink Water!
- Do not drink alcohol, as it can cause dehydration and immobility.
- Wear loose, non-restrictive clothing.
- Regularly mobilise/move the ankles.
- Take a walk up/down the aisle every hour or so, when it is safe.
- Make sure you have as much space in front of you, so you can move your legs. Avoid having bags under the seat in front of you and recline your seat when possible.
- Don’t take sleeping tablets, as this will stop you from moving around!
If you have an injury and are out of action for a few weeks, see your Physio at Bend + Mend in Sydney’s CBD to help get you moving again!