ABC Guide to Travel Health - Vaccines, Vaccinations

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Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is the formation of a blood clot (thrombus) usually in the deep veins of the legs.13 Sometimes these clots break free and can lodge in the arteries of the lungs leading to a so-called ‘pulmonary embolism’.13 This may cause sharp chest pain or breathlessness and may be life-threatening if the clot is large.13 Prolonged immobility is the main factor in the development of DVT (which is usually required for lengthy travel by any mode of transport) . In the case of air travel, it has been suggested, that other factors , such as lower humidity and oxygen levels may increase the tendency for blood clots to form.11-13

Risk for travellers12,13
The increased risk associated with travel is probably quite small unless additional pre- existing risk factors for DVT are present. These include increasing age, obesity, smoking, pregnancy, the use of oral contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy, cancer, lower limb injury or surgery, family history of DVT, and previous thrombosis or embolism. (See your doctor.)

Precautions and prevention11-13
For anyone travelling for prolonged periods, especially for trips longer than 6–8 hours:

  • Wear loose non-restrictive clothing.
  • Do not sit with the legs crossed.
  • Move around in the seat and cabin as much as is practicable.
  • While seated, do calf exercises to stimulate blood flow, like flexing and rotating the ankles.
  • Drink plenty of fluids before and during the trip.
  • Avoid excessive intake of alcohol and caffeine drinks during the trip.
  • It may be helpful to wear graduated-compression stockings designed for travel, especially for those with risk factors for DVT. (See your doctor.)
  • Be watchful for symptoms of DVT, in particular pain in the calves, during and for up to a month after a long flight . See your doctor if symptoms develop.

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