When your feet spread on a flight, it might mean you’re showing signs of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT). Martina Mason highlights some of the warning signs and offers a few tips to those who want to keep their feet firmly under the seat in front.
Now that we’re half way through January, it means a review of the resolutions you’ve probably already broken.
But this year, there’s one that I must maintain, and that’s taking care of my feet when I travel.
Yes, I travelled home for Christmas with my family and the plane journey nearly killed me.
Apart from dealing with the kids, my left foot spread out so much I thought I’d done myself an injury.
While my inflamed foot receded as I limped shoeless through security I promised myself: “Never again”.
But for many travellers, it’s important to know why your foot is swelling, what you can do to avoid it, and what might happen if you don’t.
For me, I was fine by the time I got home. A subsequent visit to my doctor assured me that my foot inflammation had simply been a cramp complemented by a possible pulled muscle.
But if the pain had persisted, then I could have been looking at something more serious, such as Deep Vein Thrombosis.
Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) occurs when a blood clot forms in one of the deep veins in your body, usually in your legs. DVT can cause leg pain or swelling but can also occur without any symptoms.
You may have difficulty breathing, a faster-than-normal heartbeat, experience light-headedness or feel pain and swelling in your leg.
According to the UK’s NHS website, the condition “can lead to a potentially life-threatening illness called a pulmonary embolism. This happens when a clot breaks off into the bloodstream and travels to the chest, where it blocks one of the blood vessels in the lungs”.
About one in 1,000 people are affected with DVT. A report by the American College of Chest Physicians revealed that some of the risk factors can include being overweight, being inactive, having a family history of the condition, and suffering conditions such as cancer or heart failure.
Dr. Andrew Olinde, a vascular surgeon in Louisiana, USA, says: “When we walk, our muscles contract and push the blood back to the heart. If you’re not mobile, your blood is likely to get more static and form a clot.”
And as for being dubbed ‘economy-class syndrome’ because of the lack of legroom in ‘cattle class’, NHS UK says there’s no scientific proof that the condition can be caused by having to fly economy.
But to set your mind at rest, see your doctor who will examine your leg for pain and swelling. For a definitive diagnosis, he or she may decide to refer you to hospital for an ultrasound. This will clarify if there are clots in your deep veins, which is dangerous; or in superficial veins, which is not.
DVT is treatable and may mean you have to take medication for blood-thinning, such as Warfarin or Heparin. If you do end up with it, it might mean a few lifestyle changes.
Dr. Olinde says: “Usually, it’s a predisposing factor that caused you to get it – you either had surgery or were immobile. Once active again, the risk of getting DVT is low.”
Meantime, there are things I can do to stop my feet from spreading next time I’m on a plane. These include:
Get out of your seat and walk up and down the aisle a bit more often. Yes, it might be awkward if you’re in the middle seat placed next to an irritable curmudgeon (like your husband) but smile sweetly and persist.
Do these in the departure lounge, obviously. The flight attendants may not appreciate a Jane Fonda fan in the aisle. Give your calf muscles a good workout while you wait for your flight to be called. Check out some online examples on your tablet.
These are like stockings that grip your leg below the knee, meaning that they put pressure on the part of your leg likely to swell up, such as your feet and ankles. This makes it harder for a clot to form. They should not be worn by passengers who have never had any problems with swelling.
Team Y says: “This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please seek the advice of a medical expert if you have any questions regarding a health issue.”
(Sources: NHS UK, Everyday Health)