Signs when flying you could be at risk of a blood clot

British Heart Foundation: Understanding blood clots

Blood clots are small clumps of blood that form into a gel-like substance.

A certain amount of clotting is necessary for the body as it prevents excessive bleeding, however, those that don’t dissolve naturally can be dangerous.

This is because they can travel around the body to vital organs, even cutting off blood supply.

In serious cases this can result in life-threatening emergencies such as strokes, heart attacks and pulmonary embolisms in the lungs.

There are a number of things that can raise your risk for blood clots, with flying on an aeroplane one of them.

According to experts at Chemist Click this is due to several reasons.

“People who go through extended periods of inactivity, such as during long-distance flights, bed rest due to illness or surgery or being confined to a wheelchair, can increase the risk of deep vein thrombosis – DVT (a blood clot found in a deep vein),” they told

“Immobility, coupled with the reduced cabin pressure and humidity in an aeroplane can contribute to blood pooling and slower blood flow, potentially leading to clot formation or the enlargement of existing clots.

“Flying, particularly long-haul, can increase the risk of pulmonary embolism (PE) which is a serious complication of DVT, when a blood clot breaks off and travels to the lungs causing a blockage because of the prolonged immobility and reduced mobility through the duration.

“The reduced cabin pressure in aeroplanes can lead to dehydration, as the air in the cabin is typically dry.

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“Dehydration can thicken the blood, making it more prone to clotting.

“Prolonged sitting without adequate leg movement can contribute to blood pooling in the legs, potentially increasing the risk of clot formation or exacerbating existing clots.”

Signs of a blood clot to look out for when flying

The experts said: “Difficulty breathing or a sudden onset of shortness of breath, especially if it is accompanied by chest pain, can be a sign of a pulmonary embolism which is a medical emergency that requires immediate attention.

“Sharp or stabbing chest pain, particularly when accompanied by difficulty breathing, could also be indicative of a PE or other cardiovascular issues.

“If you notice a sudden increase in heart rate or feel irregular heartbeats (palpitations) or feel lightheaded, dizzy or experience a loss of consciousness, you seek medical attention immediately.

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“You may have a blood clot if you notice intense pain, swelling or tenderness in one leg, particularly if it is accompanied by warmth, redness, or discolouration.”

Signs of DVT include:

  • Pain and tenderness in the affected leg, often felt as a deep ache or cramping sensation
  • Pain that may worsen when walking or standing
  • Swelling, which may be accompanied by warmth and redness, a bluish or purplish hue in the affected area
  • Superficial veins near the site of the clot may become more prominent and visible.

How to lower your risk of a blood clot when flying

Luckily there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of a blood clot.

“Take regular opportunities to move and stretch your legs and opt for an aisle seat, if possible,” the experts added.

“You can do simple leg exercises, such as ankle circles, heel-toe raises and leg lifts while seated.

“Try to walk in the aisle when it’s safe to do so or do in-seat exercises to keep your blood flowing.

“Seek advice from your doctor about the appropriate use of the medication during air travel if you’re at high risk of DVT and have been prescribed blood-thinning medication.

“Your doctor may also give you aspirin to reduce the risk, and you can also wear compression stockings.

“Sitting with crossed legs can restrict blood flow in the legs. Instead, keep your legs uncrossed and your feet flat on the floor or supported on a footrest if available.”

Other risk factors for blood clots include if you:

  • Are staying in or recently left hospital – especially if you cannot move around much
  • Are overweight
  • Smoke
  • Are using combined hormonal contraception
  • Have had a blood clot before
  • Are pregnant or have just had a baby
  • Have an inflammatory condition such as Crohn’s disease or rheumatoid arthritis.

If you are concerned that you could have a blood clot you should speak to your GP.

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