Avoid Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)

DVT legs

A painful case of deep vein thrombosis

What is Deep Vein Thrombosis?

A thorough New Zealand DVT research project published in December 2003 suggests that 1% of long-haul air passengers will suffer from Deep Vein Thrombosis. This is four people on every jumbo jet.

Sometimes known as economy class syndrome – though since the cause is primarily immobility it’s just as bad for first class passengers and even, to a lesser extent, for long distance car, bus and train travellers – it occurs when large blood clots form in deep veins in the legs which move on to block the blood vessels of vital organs.

Not all those with DVT get ill. Blood clots disintegrate naturally much of the time, but some can reach the lungs, causing pulmonary embolism – a frequently deadly attack.

People especially at risk

Overweight, elderly (over 65 the risk is 1 in 1, 000 flyers), smokers, pregnant, on oestrogen contraceptive pills or HRT, have had recent surgery or lower leg trauma, or a family history of Deep Vein Thrombosis, but even those in good health are potential victims – three members of Britain’s Olympic team to Australia developed DVT.

Recent research indicates that people who have had hip or knee replacement surgery are 3 times more likely to develop leg DVT if they travel – by plane, train, bus or car! – for over 3 hours within 3 months of the operation.


Shortness of breath, a cough, chest pains, swelling, pains, cramps or redness in the lower legs (often only one leg) during or up to 4 weeks after a flight, though getting DVT symptoms well after the flight is likely, which is why it is difficult to establish a definite link between travelling and blood clots.
Swollen ankles are a common occurrence during/after flights and don’t mean DVT!

Avoiding DVT

Aspirin? Long distance fliers (in fact long distance sitters of any kind), especially over 6 hours, sometimes take an aspirin before travelling to avoid possible DVT, according to the Aviation Health Institute (unless suffering from uncontrolled high blood pressure, ulcers or indigestion). Ideally use a kind-to-the-tummy low-dose dispersible aspirin, and start taking one a day a couple of days before flying and for a couple of days afterwards.

However, aspirin can cause stomach upset or even internal bleeding and a recent New Zealand study indicates aspirin may have little effect, but a prescription-only blood thinning agent called heparin does.

Zinopin In July 2004 a new, totally natural anti-DVT preparation is on the market in the UK, called Zinopin or ZinopinR.

According to Dr John Scurr, vascular surgeon, Zinopin has been on test for two years and appears to indicate that there are no side effects – even when combined with other drugs, and it’s VERY effective. None of the frequent long haul flyers on test got DVT, and swollen legs also disappeared.

Water– drink a lot of water and don’t overdo the alcohol, though a couple of glasses of red wine helps to combat DVT due to the anti-clotting agent. Don’t drink fizzy sodas.

Food– recent theory suggests that eating rich, saturated fats on the plane could trigger dvt due to raised levels of blood fats activating a blood clotting agent called Factor 7. This is yet unproven but worried travellers might choose a light, low fat, low sugar meal (avoid dairy products, red meat, fried food, high carb snacks). Some airlines offer light meals as options and can be pre-ordered.

Before and during the flight try to eat foods rich in Omega 3 (oily fish, crab, walnuts, almonds, peanuts), Vitamin E (avocados, sunflower seeds, wheatgerm), Vitamin C (fruit, broccoli), Magnesium (dark green veggies, seeds, liver), Phytochemicals (soya, garlic, black grapes).
Also drink fruit juices which have high levels of polyphenols such as cranberry, pomegranate and cloudy apples juice.

Exercise– walk up the aisle every hour or so, or at least wiggle your feet and toes, bend them up and down, clench your leg and buttock muscles regularly. Movement is more important than a first class seat.
Take a golf ball and press/roll it around with your feet if you prefer not to leave your seat. (Continued on right)

Sleep- ok, but not for too long.

Space- more legroom should help a bit, so choose your airline if you can afford to.

Don’t cross your legsif you are lucky enough to have the space.

Support socks/stockings- wear comfortable clothes and compression socks or stockings. Available in many pharmacies, airport shops and online they are a clinically proven health aid, massaging blood upwards and out of the danger area. These days women can even get very fashionable compression stockings.
Apart from Deep Vein Thrombosis, support socks are effective as a general, long-haul comfort aid.
If you don’t have support socks then regular firm support tights will help.

An Italian team carried out tests on 205 people known to be at risk of DVT. Half of the group were told to wear the compression stockings on a flight lasting around 12 hours, half were not. Of the 103 people who wore the stockings, one developed a blood clot, while of the people not wearing them, six developed clots.
New Zealand research also supports supports, though high risk passengers need more protection.

Don’t stress yourself – fear or stress of flying constricts veins and increases blood clotting factors, specialists say, so try to relax. Take some kind of (herbal? ) tranquiliser?

Gotu Kola – an Indian herb that not only calms the mind but also discourages swelling of legs and feet.

Gingko Biloba – £5m of European research shows that Gingko improves blood flow and micro circulation ( e. g. toes), thus reducing chances of DVT as well as boosting memory and general intellect.
You’ll need 120mg per day for at least a month before any improvement occurs.

Long-Haul carry-on check list:
Zinopin, Melatonin (marketed under different names e. g. Benedorm) and natural? sleeping aid for night flights, earplugs, good eye mask, DVT stockings, golf ball, lip salve (very dry air), book, reading glasses (for video screens too! ).

n. b. even short trips can cause Deep Vein Thrombosis.
If you value your health long distance bus/car passengers and couch potatoes should also be concerned about thrombosis and take precautions in a similar vein!

And another thing. . .
Check plane seating configurations at SeatGuru in order to reserve the best possible location.