You might not know it, but thrombosis is linked to a quarter of all deaths worldwide, as the root cause of heart disease, ischaemic stroke and venous thromboembolism. However, most of us probably associate it with Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) - the reason we’re advised to move and stretch regularly on long haul flights - a condition which affects about five people in every thousand.
What is thrombosis?
Thrombosis simply refers to blood clots in arteries (arterial thrombosis, or AT) or veins (venous thromboembolism, or VTE).
It’s more common in adults over 40.
What causes thrombosis?
There are a number factors that can increase your risk, including:
- Very long periods of inactivity
- A family history of related conditions
- Taking the contraceptive pill
- Damaged blood vessels (i.e. from surgery or inflammation)
- Pregnancy (this varies depending on a woman’s age, weight and number of previous pregnancies, but the higher risk remains for at least six weeks after giving birth)
What are the symptoms of thrombosis
Spotting the signs of thrombosis early is crucial to getting effective treatment. The following symptoms are indicators that you should visit your doctor:
- Swelling in the legs
- Pain or discomfort in the calves
- Redness or tenderness in the calves
- Change in temperature or colour in the legs (this can happen if blood vessels are blocked and blood is diverted to our veins)
How to reduce the risk of thrombosis
In the long term, there are plenty of things you can do every day to lower your risk of thrombosis:
- Exercise more: walking, running, cycling, swimming - anything that gets the blood flowing and the heart pumping.
- Stretch more: with regular exercise, stretching will improve your circulation and lower the risk of blood clots.
- Drink plenty of water: staying hydrated throughout the day will do wonders for your blood!
- Eat a healthy diet: studies have found that people who eat more fruit and vegetables, and less red and processed meats, have a lower risk of thrombosis.
What about long flights?
Contrary to popular belief, blood clots happen more in hospitals than long haul flights (see below). That said, it’s easy to prevent clots while flying, so here are some expert tips for avoiding thrombosis as you rack up those air miles:
Move and stretch regularly: no one would want you doing lunges in the aisles, but a short wander with a few stretches will keep your blood flowing healthily. Do it on your way to and from the bathroom - your joints will thank you for it when you sit back down.
Drink lots (of water!): tempting as a glass of wine or beer might be, drinking less alcohol and more water as you fly is the best way to stay hydrated and lower the risk of a clot forming.
Flex: it’s not practical to get up and down all the time, so get in the habit of flexing your ankles and wrists every hour or so. Some gentle neck stretches will help too.
Can’t I just take aspirin for thrombosis?
Aspirin is proven to reduce the risk of clots in arteries, but not in veins, so it won’t solve that part of the problem. It also increases the risk of gastric bleeding, which could be very dangerous if you’re on a long haul flight.
The best - and safest - way to lower you risk of thrombosis is to stay active and hydrated.
What about hospitals?
Far more than flying, the biggest risk factor for clots in veins is going into hospital, where two thirds of all blood clots happen. In fact, without serious efforts taken to reduce these risks, it’s estimated that 20,000 people would otherwise die from blood clots in hospitals every single year.
That’s why the International Society for Thrombosis and Haemostasis (ISTH) created World Thrombosis Day. It started on October 13th in 2014, and aims to raise awareness for both the public and healthcare professionals so that more deaths from blood clots can be prevented.
How to get further help and advice for thrombosis
If you think you have any of the symptoms listed above, or may be at a higher risk of thrombosis, book an appointment with your doctor.