Short flights are delightful but long-haul flights can be bothersome. Prolonged exposure to cold and dry cabin air forces some of us run to the toilet often. A snoring neighbour makes us homicidal and a bawling kid kicking our seat from behind makes us suicidal. Losing the sense of time is another irritating factor. The crew serves breakfast when we are just falling asleep, and when everyone sleeps we feel hungry. Air turbulence too plays spoilsport and leads to anxiety related insomnia, making many of us fatigued due to lack of sleep. But what we must worry about and try preventing is a clot in our blood vessels, it is more than just a nuisance!
Understanding the clot is the first step in preventing it. When we are wounded blood spatters out. Our body’s healing mechanism kicks in, creating a natural bandage, a crusted dark brown covering called the clot to stop the bleeding. The clot (medically known as thrombus) can sometimes turn into a curse when it develops at the wrong place. Take for example our veins that carry used (by the body) blood back to the heart and then to the lungs for purification. The problem starts when these body’s pipelines are narrowed or partially blocked. This may take place dues to an injury to the vein such as a sharp blow or surgery, or heart disease or radiation therapy for cancer. Even prolonged immobility can disrupt the venous blood flow and sometimes block it (medically known as thrombosis)
These above mentioned conditions lead sluggish blood flow and clot formation in the veins. If these troublesome clots form in veins that run deep in our body they are known as ‘Deep Vein Thrombosis’ or DVT.
There are other reasons for DVT, like thickening of the blood due to dehydration, or restricted blood flow due to tight clothes. A tightly fastened seat belt can also hamper the blood flow.
When the clots develop in veins surrounded by powerful calf muscles of the legs it can be fatal.
The clot that generally hangs on to the inner side of the vein (thrombus) can get dislodged by the pressure from the powerful calf muscles. This mobile missile (embolus) is now free to travel with the blood. Imagine the scenario, the blood from the calf veins is heading first to the heart and then to the lungs for purification. The blood loaded with deadly missile called the embolus reaches these critical destinations, and the disaster is only a breath away. The embolus blocks the blood vessels that carry blood from the heart to the lungs or other crucial blood vessels in the lungs resulting in a serious condition called Pulmonary Embolism – and may lead to on-the-spot death.
DVT in air travellers was first described as ‘Economy Class Syndromes’ (ECS) or Traveller’s Thrombosis. It is difficult to know how many air travellers suffer from DVT, as the condition may be symptomless in the beginning and the embolism may occur several days after the travel. Watch for a swelling or pain. Several factors contribute to DVT – like cramped seating, prolonged immobility, position (bent knees that compress the deep vein behind the knee), low oxygen, dry air, and low cabin pressure at high elevations that leads to dehydration. The risk increases if the traveller is obese, is a smoker, is pregnant or is on oral contraceptives. Excessive consumption of alcohol during flights is an added disadvantage.
Easy ways to avoid DVT during travel
1) Wear comfortable clothes
2) Do not store luggage near your feet
3) Do feet exercise – raise your heels keeping your toes on the floor and then bring heals down
– do it for several times and then repeat.
4) Drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol
5) Ask the airline staff if they provide compression stockings and if yes, consult the staff and
use the stockings during long haul flights
6) Walk on the aisle a few times during the flight.
7) If you are on a medication ask your doctor how to adjust the intake in different time zones.
8) Don’t panic and enjoy your flight!
The author is a microbiologist and has worked for food and pharmaceutical companies in marketing as well as business development in countries like Germany, India and the United Arab Emirates. She has written articles on ‘health & medicine’ in a leading Marathi newspaper and was also a freelance health columnist for a leading English newspaper in the Gulf for several years. From a young age she was also into writing poetry in Marathi and English, and some of her poems have been published. Now back in India she is a full time writer and pursues farming as a hobby. The first part of her Historical Novel trilogy called ‘Frontiers of Karma – the Counterstroke’ is published (August 2014) by Alchemy Publishers. It is a first novel published on Shivaji Aurangzeb conflict in English where the lives of these mighty men run parallel.
You can follow her on twitter – Medha Bhaskaran @MedhaDB.
Write to her on email@example.com