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Long-Haul Flights And Deep Vein Thrombosis: What You Need To Know

Yes, the stockings work. And no, they're not just for people with varicose veins.

14/11/2016 9:46 AM AEDT | Updated 14/11/2016 11:56 AM AEDT
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Vein health is really about common sense.

Deep Vein Thrombosis is far from a sexy topic, though it's one health professionals are increasingly suggesting we get clued up on given international travel is becoming a regular and frequent part of our lives.

So, what is it exactly and what's the deal with long flights -- will it increase my risk?

"Deep Vein Thrombosis (or DVT) occurs when a blood clot forms in the deeper system of veins in the body, most commonly the legs," Dr Zil Yassine, medical director of the The Vein Institute in Sydney told The Huffington Post Australia.

But the concern isn't just a clot in the legs. "A certain proportion of people who get a DVT will go on to have lung clots -- which can be fatal," Yassine said.

There are different risk factors for DVT including varicose veins, dehydration, lack of movement and a previous or a recent illness.

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Cramped seats aren't so bad when you're five. But as an adult, you should be getting up or moving your body in some way every hour.

"For the average person, to get a DVT on a long distance flight is quite low, however there are a number of factors associated with long distance flights we need to be aware of and apply a bit of common sense to," Yassine said.

Yassine explains the link between DVT and long-haul flights is like a 'golden storm'.

"If you add up the rise in people travelling overseas, the fact that economy seating is getting smaller, plus if you already have varicose veins, then your risk of developing a DVT is much greater," Yassine said.

Ahead, Yassine explains the simple measures we can take when travelling overseas to put the health of our veins first.

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If you have varicose veins, get them checked

"People don't realise that if you have varicose veins, you are at higher risk of developing a DVT," Yassine said.

Yassine explains they are not just a cosmetic issue and that each year his clinic receives calls from people, particularly men at the airport who are experiencing soreness in their legs. "What's happened is they've developed a DVT associated with a varicose vein."

Before flying you should get an assessment and if possible, treated.

"If you don't want to get them treated, definitely look to invest in compression stockings and be aware of the other risk factors," Yassine said.

Also, be aware of your medical history

These include family history of clots, whether you are on the Pill and whether you have had a recent illness.

"Your risk of clots is higher on the Pill however, it is not high on the whole," Yassine said.

That said, it is worth being aware of the other risk factors -- varicose veins, immobility, dehydration, previous illness and family history -- and understanding how these can add up when flying overseas.

Compression stockings are your friend

"A quality pair of stockings will decrease your swelling and almost certainly lessen your risk of DVT," Yassine said. Whether or not you already have varicose veins, Yassine encourages investing in a pair to reduce swelling.

"Make sure they are fitted correctly, there's no point in getting the cheap varieties," Yassine said.

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It's important you get compression tights fitted correctly.

Don't take a sleeping pill

"If you're immobile in an already cramped condition, and perhaps even dehydrated from alcohol it's only adding to those extra risk factors," Yassine said.

The reason the airlines are so particular about the in-flight exercises is because it does matter.

"Every hour make sure you're getting up to move around by either walking or doing the exercises in your seat," Yassine said.

Hydrate

Reducing your risk of DVT comes down to common sense, and if you're flying regularly on long distance flights (more than five hours) it's important to put that common sense into practice.

"Ideally you wouldn't have alcohol and instead be consuming simple fluids to keep you hydrated," Yassine said.

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