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Flying for Holidays: How to prevent Oedema in legs

Summer is fast approaching and most Brits are preparing to fly to sunnier places.  Sunscreen, swimsuits, and beach towels all make their way on the packing list every year.  But most holiday makers don’t often think to also plan ahead for oedema.  

You’re not likely to encounter foot, leg or ankle problems if you’re simply on a ‘puddle jumper’ flight from London to Alicante.  If you’re on 3+ hour flight, however, avoiding oedema in legs is prudent.  Find out what the risks of a long-haul flight may be and how to stay healthy whilst travelling from your friends here at AA Podiatry.

How do Flights Cause Oedema in Legs?

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Most people tend to experience minor foot and leg changes during a flight.

For most people, a little leg or foot swelling is not a big deal.  Sitting with your feet on the floor causes blood to pool in your leg veins` .  As a result, the fluid seeps out into the surrounding tissues.  It happens.  Usually, it’s no big deal.  If you sit at a desk at work, you’re likely to experience the same natural occurrence. 

The risk for complications, however, is a little bit worse on a flight as the pressurised cabin dehydrates you. If you consume alcohol or caffeine on the flight, that doesn’t help either. The concern is that the combination of immobility and dehydration will lead to excessive swelling and a potentially fatal condition known as deep vein thrombosis.  Feasibly, a blood clot in the leg could break off into the blood stream, travel to your vital organs and lead to serious injury or even death.

The risk of dying from venous thrombosis is not great, but it’s nonetheless something you should be aware of – particularly if you fall into the risk pool.

Who’s at risk?

You should consider taking preventative measures on your next flight if:

  • You’ve had previous experience with deep vein thrombosis
  • You’ve recently had orthopaedic surgery (up to 80% of surgical patients have thrombosis)
  • You’re over 60 (the risk starts to climb at 40, but peaks between 60 and 70)
  • You’ve recently fractured a long leg bone
  • Your BMI is over 30
  • You’re pregnant (your risk increases 5x as the baby presses on your veins)
  • You’re on birth control or oestrogen therapy
  • You have a family history of thrombosis
  • You have pancreatic or gastric cancer
  • You’re undergoing chemotherapy

How long a flight increases your risk of thrombosis?

Any form of cramped, immobilising travel lasting more than two hours increases your risk of thrombosis.  Equally, if you’re taking road trips this holiday season, the risk still exists for you.  After just four hours of cramped travel, your risk of deep vein thrombosis doubles and persists for several weeks after your initial journey.

What are the Symptoms of DVT?

50% of all sufferers don’t experience any symptoms.  Some individuals notice:

  • Swelling in one leg, but not the other, along with leg pain
  • Throbbing, cramp-like feeling in the calf muscle
  • Tenderness or pain while standing and walking
  • Skin may feel unusually warm
  • Skin appears reddish or blue in colour

The good news

A clot dissolves. the body naturally dissolves colts by activating plasmin protein found in the wall of a clot.  It can take several weeks for this to occur.  Doctors speed up the process (or even prevent clots) by prescribing blood thinners or thrombolytics (a drug that activates plasmin).

You can prevent it – if you’re planning to travel over the holidays, you should:

  • Stand up, stretch your leg and take a brief walk once every 60-90 minutes
  • Consume less sodium before your flight and drink lots of water during the flight
  • Store your bags in overhead lockers to give yourself more legroom
  • Avoid crossing your legs
  • Point your toes up and down and move them from side to side
  • Wear comfortable, well-fitting shoes
  • Wear compression socks

If you have any concerns about DVT, do not hesitate to contact our Clarkston or Shuttleston clinics to speak with a podiatrist prior to your trip.

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