Have you ever noticed that your legs and feet get a little swollen after a long flight?
This is usually normal, considering the lack of air pressure and poor circulation on airplanes, coupled with the fact that you were probably sitting for hours without drinking enough water, and possibly had a glass of wine or beer.
What is not normal is developing a blood clot.
Genetic factors do contribute to the formation of clots, but the dehydration and cramped conditions on planes can also increase the likelihood of getting one.
A thrombus is a blood clot that occurs when your blood thickens and clumps together. When one forms in the deep veins of your body, such as those in the legs, it is called deep vein thrombosis (DVT). If the clot dislodges and travels through your circulatory system, it can cause serious complications like a pulmonary embolism (a blood clot in your lungs).
Some symptoms of DVT include swelling and/or a slight redness in the affected area, and pain that is more acute than a cramp or the muscle tightness that you might experience after exercising.
If you experience any of these symptoms after a flight, especially if you have a family history of cardiovascular diseases or have had DVT previously, you should consult your doctor immediately.
Here are some simple steps you can take before, during and after a long flight to help keep blood circulating through your system and reduce the likelihood that you’ll develop DVT.
Before the flight: Try to get some exercise the day before you fly. If you have a job that requires you to sit a lot, do the ankle and foot exercises described below, and try to stay as mobile as you can.
Drink plenty of water, and avoid dehydrating liquids such as caffeine and alcohol. Find some shoes that fit loosely around your ankles and feet and set them aside to wear on the plane. Consider wearing compression socks or stockings to help prevent blood pooling in your legs.
During the flight: Do the following exercises once or twice per hour if possible.
- While sitting at your seat, move your ankles to make circles with your feet, going 10 times in one direction, then 10 times in the other direction
- Alternate between pointing your toes, and pulling your foot towards your shin 20 times
- Get up once or twice per hour and walk up and down the aisle a few times
- While standing, do 15-20 heel raises, going up and down onto your toes
After the flight: Try to get moving! Walk around as much as possible in the airport before heading to your next mode of transportation.
Once you’re in your hotel room, lie on your bed the wrong way around, with your feet as close to the wall as possible. Take both legs and straighten them out, and rest your feet on the wall so that your feet and legs are elevated several inches above the height of the rest of your body.
Relax in this position for 15-30 minutes. This inversion posture will help circulate pooled blood away from your legs and into other parts of your body.
Resources for more information on DVT:
By Annette Lang for PeterGreenberg.com. Visit Annette’s Web site at www.Annettelang.com.
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