Economy Class Syndrome or Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) does not specifically affect people who fly. It occurs when blood clots form in the deep venous system of the body, usually in the calves, thighs and pelvis.
There are two categories of DVT. Chronic DVT occurs when the blood clots are firmly attached to blood vessel walls and cause the blood vessel to become completely blocked. Acute DVT, the more dangerous of the two involves freshly formed blood clots that are not firmly attached to the vessel walls. These clots can travel up to the heart and then into the arterial system of the lungs and jam it up, causing pulmonary embolism, which can result in death.
Factors that can cause DVT
1. Blood flow
The flow of the venous system is sluggish compared to that of the arterial system and this makes the risk of blood clots formation higher especially in immobility.
2. Blood consistency
People who smoke, drink excessive amounts of alcohol or caffeine tend to have blood that is thicker than people who do not partake these indulgences. This puts them at greater risk of DVT.
3. Lining of blood vessel walls
Damaged blood vessel walls as a result of external trauma from injuries or surgery, can put a person at greater risk of DVT.
Symptoms of DVT include pain and swelling of the legs and in some instances, fever. A doctor would assess the severity of the patient’s condition by way of an ultrasound scan. Anti-clotting medication and bed rest is usually recommended. If you have family members who have suffered from DVT, consult a doctor to determine if you’re at risk of DVT. He may prescribe some anti-clotting medications for you to before, during and after your flight.
Tips to prevent it
1. Drink up
Do drink plenty of water and limit the consumption of alcohol and caffeine containing fluids. To avoid falling victim, the next time you have a long flight, stick a sports drink in your carry-on. Drinks with a mixture of electrolytes and carbohydrates work better than water to prevent blood from pooling in your legs and clotting when you fly.
2. Move around
Perform simple leg exercises to ensure good blood circulation in your legs. Or simply get up and take a walk along the aisle at least once each hour. Sitting too long in the same position or seat can also result in cramps. If that’s the case, don’t rub the sore spot—that will only make things worse. For quick relief, stand firmly on the leg or foot, or just press it down on the floor as hard as you can.
3. Wear compression stockings
Surgical compression stockings worn during the flight may also be helpful especially for those who had a history of DVT. These are specially designed to increase blood circulation.