For many people traveling abroad for surgery, the trip home is an exciting milestone in the process. It means that the procedure went well, they can start the recovery process at home, and they can eventually get back to their daily lives. Usually, the last thing patients think about is developing a serious health issue due to a long flight home.
What patients may not know is that long distance travel after surgery can put them at increased risk of developing a “deep vein thrombosis” (DVT). What exactly does that mean and how can patients prevent a DVT when traveling home after surgery abroad?
Let’s dive into the basics of DVT:
What is a DVT?
A DVT is a blood clot that forms deep in the veins, usually in the leg. A DVT can be dangerous because the clot can travel to and partially or completely block blood flow back to the heart or the lungs. Without treatment, a DVT can be deadly.
Why does long-distance travel increase the risk for DVT?
The real culprit is sitting still for four hours or more at a time. Sitting still for that long slows down blood circulation in the legs, which makes the blood more likely to clot. A long flight increases the risk for DVT for people who are healthy and at low risk for blood clots, but even more so for people who have recently had surgery. After surgery, the body’s blood clot mechanisms are already in overdrive. A long flight can be enough to set a DVT into motion.
How can a DVT be prevented when traveling after surgery?
The good news is there are steps that patients can take to decrease their risk of developing a DVT when traveling after surgery, including:
Know the signs:
Be on the alert for signs and symptoms of blood clots (usually in the leg or arm), such as swelling, pain, tenderness, warmth or redness. Patients should contact their doctor if they experience any of these symptoms.
Get up and moving:
If traveling by plane, patients should get out of their seat and walk up and down the aisle every hour or so to increase blood circulation and decrease likelihood of blood clotting.
- Move while sitting: Doing exercises like raising and lowering the toes, while keeping the heels on the floor, and raising and lowering the heels, keeping the toes on the floor, can increase blood circulation while seated. Patients should do these exercises every 20 minutes or so.
Drinking extra fluids can help thin the blood, making it easier to circulate and less likely to clot. Avoid coffee and alcohol, which can dehydrate the body, make the veins narrower and make the blood thicker, which can lead to a blood clot.
Wear loose-fitting clothes:
Don’t wear tight socks, and stick with loose fitting clothes that aren’t tight around the waist or legs.
In general, the likelihood of developing DVT after surgery is low, since patients are pre-screened for good general health before undergoing their procedure. However, it is important to realize that DVT is an associated risk of traveling for surgery, and to prioritize preventative measures to avoid the complication. Procedures which use general anesthesia and bone surgeries (hip, knee, etc.) put patients at the highest risk for DVT.
Taking these preventative measures can help patients decrease their risk of developing a DVT on the long trip back home after surgery. Additionally, talking with the physician about DVT after surgery is a great way for patients to continue receiving resources and support throughout their journey.
Got more questions about DVT or safety while traveling abroad for medical treatment? Don’t hesitate to reach out to us today!