air travel

Deep Vein Thrombosis & Postphlebitic Syndrome

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a serious condition where a blood clot forms in a deep vein of the body, usually the legs. The clot blocks bloodflow resulting in leg pain and swelling. Small clots, however, can produce no symptom at all. Nonetheless, prompt medical attention is necessary as serious complications can occur. A clot fragment can break loose, move to the torso, and become lodged in the lungs as a pulmonary embolism (PE) putting strain on the heart and lungs. Risk factors for DVT include prolonged immobility, surgery, trauma, pregnancy, a positive family history, birth control pills, obesity, pregnancy, smoking and cancer. It is true that prolonged sitting such as a transcontinental flight or a long road trip increases DVT risk, so it is important to take walking breaks or perform calf raises in your seat when traveling long distances.

swollen legs during air travel

DVTs also damage the valves on the inner wall of the veins. When a vein valve becomes damaged, blood leaks down the vein in the wrong direction towards the foot. Pressure starts building and can become so high that it causes vein bulging, leg swelling, pain, swelling, a bursting sensation when walking, skin discoloration or open leg sores. This is called post-thrombotic syndrome or also post-phlebitic syndrome. This is a debilitating condition that can be managed or better yet prevented with proper use of compression support stockings.

The test of choice for DVT diagnosis is duplex ultrasound – a simple, painless and noninvasive test that rapidly determines whether a DVT is present. DVTs are treatable with blood thinners (anticoagulation) which prevents the body from forming new clot. The body’s enzymes then go to work dissolving the clot. Previously, blood thinner treatment required hospitalization, painful injections and/or blood tests. Nowadays, outpatient treatment with newer blood thinning pills is available.

To find out more about DVT and post-thrombotic syndrome or schedule a same-day ultrasound appointment, contact one of our board certified vascular specialists who are experienced in the diagnosis, management and prevention of DVT and post-thrombotic syndrome.

1. Antithrombotic therapy for venous thromboembolism disease: Antithrombotic Therapy and Prevention of Thrombosis, 9th ed: American College of Chest Physicians Evidence-based Clinical Practice Guidelines. Kearon C, et al. Chest. 2014 Feb;141(2 Suppl):e419S-94S
2. The post-thrombotic syndrome and compression therapy. Van der Velden S, Neumann H. Phlebology. 2014 May 19;29(1 suppl):83-89