When a friend recently suffered from DVT (deep vein thrombosis) after taking a flight from Europe to Australia it was a shock. Nothing makes you sit up and take notice more than when a family that you care about is affected by something, particularly a situation that was nearly life-ending. The thought of losing a healthy, active, and fit friend, to something that’s usually preventable, was a real moment for me. To hear the story of him disembarking a flight at Sydney Airport, collapsing, and nearly dying needs to be something I turn into a cautionary tale. So, today’s post is hopefully going to raise awareness for the risks of DVT on long-haul flights, ways to avoid it and most importantly open up a conversation. I will add that I am not a medical expert and hope that you will chat to your doctor about what’s right for you before your next flight.
DVT and air travel
Hubby and I have been conscious of the risks of DVT and have always chosen to wear compression socks for flights longer than around six hours. Most experts suggest they should be worn for any flights longer than four hours so that’s my new guideline. It’s important to note that DVT does not discriminate when it comes to age. It’s not a condition that only targets older people and knowing two younger people who suffered from DVT was what made me convince Amelia to also wear compression socks when she flew to Europe last year.
A young person’s DVT experience
A family friend was 22 years old when she suffered from DVT on a flight from Sydney to Vienna (her stopover point on the way to Greece). Finding it hard to sleep on flights she took a third of a sleeping tablet and fell asleep. She had one leg crossed over the other leg and on waking up on her arrival in Vienna she felt pain and a knot in her calf at the point where her legs were crossed. She could barely walk and was taken by wheelchair to the medical room at the airport. The doctor immediately diagnosed DVT and sent her on the next flight to Greece with three weeks’ worth of warfarin (a blood thinning drug) needles and compression stockings. Thankfully her sister, a nurse, was going to be travelling with her in Greece and was able to give her daily injections of warfarin. She had to continue wearing the compression stockings in 45 degree temps in Greece but says she is happy to live to tell the tale.
Our family friend that I mentioned at the start of this blog flew to the Netherlands for a week. While in the Netherlands he experienced some pain in his calf which in retrospect of course is relevant but at the time he didn’t pay attention to. A week later on his return flight, he began to feel breathless when climbing stairs in transit in Hong Kong and by the time he arrived in Sydney he passed out in the tunnel connecting the plane to the terminal. He hit the ground with a face plant and was unconscious. What is incredibly concerning is that although airport staff saw this on the CTV surveillance, they did not insist on him going to hospital. He had suffered an obvious head trauma and yet they allowed him to call off the ambulance himself. Like many people not wanting to cause a fuss he said he would be fine. Thankfully his wife was meeting him at arrivals and insisted he was taken to hospital by ambulance. In hospital it was revealed he had a 15cm blood clot in his leg and clots scattered throughout his body, including his lungs. Recently he had a health review with the doctor who treated him. The doctor greeted him with the news that he hadn’t expected him to make it through the night on the evening he was admitted to hospital. He would have had zero chance of survival had he gone straight home. This is a sobering thought on two levels, one is the thought of losing a friend and secondly the gross lack of duty of care on the part of airport staff who should have at the very least suspected DVT. Thankfully this friend also lives to tell the tale.
DVT is serious and yet the preventative measures we can take are relatively simple. For those able to wear them, compression socks assist with circulation and preventing blood clots from forming (again, I am no medical expert so please seek medical advice from your doctor as to whether you can wear compression socks). The socks are not the easiest to get on and I have to say the black ones I sourced are not the most fashion-forward look, but my feet never swell, and I’d prefer to know I was doing my best to avoid a potentially deadly condition. If it’s hot weather I usually don’t put the socks on until I’m at the airport as they do make your legs warm in summer. Again, I feel it is a small inconvenience for the benefits.
I am conscious that many in our HWWT community are unable to get up during a flight and often limit fluids because of the lack of accessible bathroom facilities on planes so I want to urge you to have the conversation with your doctor so you can do whatever is possible to avoid DVT.
I’ve been reading about DVT and some articles say that although many believe DVT is an economy class syndrome that’s not necessarily the case. Obviously having more space allows travellers to move around with more ease but it’s worth being cautious no matter where you sit on the plane.
I’m keen to hear from anyone who is a wheelchair user with limited mobility if you’ve received medical advice. I’m sure it would be of assistance to many.
Thanks to my friends who were happy for me to share their stories of DVT in the hope of spreading the word about the risks and the potential solution compression socks can provide.
To respect my friend’s privacy I’ve used general travel images.