Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot that forms in a major vein of the leg or, less commonly, in the arms, pelvis, or other large veins in the body. In some cases, a clot in a vein may detach from its point of origin and travel through the heart to the lungs where it becomes wedged, preventing adequate blood flow. This is called a pulmonary embolism (PE) and it can be extremely dangerous.
The reason I am writing this post is to raise awareness that DVT is a possibility in the endurance population. Athletes are at an increased risk of DVT especially if they have recently sustained an injury, are dehydrated, or travel to and from endurance activities. One of my very best cycling buddies is currently off the road after a DVT developed following a cycling holiday to Lanzarote.
This is what it looked like
The affected calf was about 4cm in circumference bigger than the other. It was hot and discoloured and it ached. The symptoms can appear for several days after travel.
Being aware that DVT is a risk to all endurance athletes is a start.
It is not just air travel that is risky. Drivers face as big a risk as airline passengers of deep-vein thrombosis.
A four hour journey is as likely to cause a blood clot whether the trip is by car, train or plane.
Inactivity is the biggest risk but following exercise where the blood is thicker because of dehydration increases the risk.
Travelling after a race or any exercise which leaves the body depleted and dehydrated increases the risk of DVT.
To reduce the risk when travelling:
- Increase your fluids and electrolytes significantly. Avoid alcohol or caffeinated drinks, such as tea, coffee or cola, because they will make you thirstier.
- Drink plenty of water and add something like Nunn hydration tablets. The electrolytes found in Nuun electrolyte tablets (sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium) will help alleviate cramps and help muscles function, thereby aiding hydration. I can understand that if I am dehydrated, my blood is thicker and will be more likely to form a clot.
- On a long journey move around. Sitting can increase the risk of DVT. Do some exercises as you fly…bend and straighten your legs, press the balls of your feet down hard against the floor, stop frequently on a long car journey and walk around for a while.
Wearing knee high compression socks can reduce the risk of DVT. Compression stockings are specially designed to apply pressure to your lower legs, helping to maintain blood flow.
I have found that wearing compression socks after exercise aids recovery and also helps with cramp. After a long bike ride I put compression sleeves on after my shower and if I can force myself out for a gentle walk, recovery is quicker and the risk of leg cramp is greatly reduced.
My regime for long haul flights was to drink as much gin as I could persuade the cabin crew to part with: eat the food and then try to go to sleep for the rest of the 10 hours flight. So now that I have a heightened awareness of the risk of a DVT I will be doing everything possible to minimise that. No more alcohol or caffeine. I will be taking some bottled water (bought airside) and a tube of Nuun tablets. I will drink 250ml of electrolyte liquid every hour, do lots of leg exercises in my seat. Of course – drinking so much will necessitate a walk to the toilet at regular intervals. I will wear compression sleeves on the drive to the airport, throughout the flight and afterwards too.
In conclusion, be aware that DVT can affect anyone, especially people who are physically fit and very active…