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South Africa Holiday: South African Airlines

South Africa Holiday:  Avoiding deep vein thrombosis

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is more common if you don't move about for long periods. This is why you may be more at risk of DVT if you go on a long-distance journey, such as a long-haul flight or long car or coach journeys.


Preventative measures

Get comfortable in your seat and recline as much as possible.
Wear loose fitting clothing.
Store your hand luggage in the overhead lockers to keep the room under the seat in front of you free.
Bend and straighten your legs, feet and toes while seated every half-hour or so during the flight.
Press the balls of your feet down hard against the floor or foot-rest to increase the blood flow in your legs and reduce clotting.
Do upper body and breathing exercises to further improve circulation.
Take occasional short walks around the cabin, whilst the aircraft is cruising at altitude.
Take advantage of refuelling stopovers where it may be possible to get off the plane and walk about.
Drink a reasonable amount of water.
Avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks (e.g. coffee), which in excess lead to dehydration and immobility.
Avoid taking sleeping pills, which also cause you to remain still (inertia).

Compression stockings or aspirin?

You may also need to discuss the use of graduated compression stockings or treatment with blood-thinning drugs if you are in a high-risk group.
Graduated compression stockings are widely available from pharmacies, and pharmacists can provide advice on use and fitting.
While there is evidence that graduated compression stockings may be useful, there is no evidence that aspirin is effective in preventing travel-related DVT.
Because aspirin can have serious side effects like bruising, bleeding from the gut and allergies you should consult your doctor before deciding to take this drug. People taking aspirin already should not increase the dose.

Symptoms of a DVT

For the vast majority of air passengers there will be no problems upon disembarkation. However symptoms of DVT can appear after arrival.
If you develop swollen painful legs, especially where one is more affected than the other, or if you have breathing difficulties, see a local doctor urgently or go to the nearest Emergency Department.

Treating a DVT

You will need medicines to treat your DVT and to reduce the risk of having another blood clot.
Initially you will probably be given a drug called heparin for five to seven days to prevent the clot getting any bigger. You will also need to take another type of anti-clotting drug, called warfarin, for between six weeks and 12 months.
Your doctor will carefully work out the dose of your anti-clotting drug. If the dose is too high, you can get bleeding problems.
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