Andy Tucker is 25 and as a self-confessed fidget, didn’t think to buy flight socks for his worldwide travels earlier this year. The London-based estate agent takes time to move around on flights but despite this he suffered a debilitating blood clot on a flight back from New Zealand.
Andy flew to South Africa for a week’s holiday, then shortly after had a week in New Zealand flying via Dubai. It was on his return to Dubai from New Zealand that he noticed the pain in his right leg.
“My calf began to hurt after I woke from sleeping,” Andy explained. “I stretched it and walked about, as it felt like I’d had cramp in my sleep and it was aching. But it didn’t seem to get any better with the stretching and it hurt for the rest of the flight, then again on the connecting flight from Dubai to London. I was sitting in economy and it was difficult to stretch my leg and get comfortable.
“Once I got back to London I went home to bed, then to work the next morning. I had been sitting down for an hour and a half, and the pain was troubling me so I knew something wasn’t right. The thought that it was a DVT was at the back of my mind and I called NHS 111 to tell them about my symptoms. They told me to go straight to A&E. I had a blood test at A&E then was sent for a scan, which confirmed it was a DVT. I was put on blood thinners for three months and told I should wear flight socks un the future, as well as having blood thinning drugs prior to flying.”
A blood clot or deep-vein thrombosis (DVT) is usually formed in the leg when sitting immobile for hours, such as on a long-haul flight. DVT is dubbed ‘economy-class syndrome’ due to travellers sitting in cramped conditions and not able to move their legs to keep the blood flow returning back to the heart. The blood starts to clot hampering the ability of blood to flow around the clot which causes pain. Symptoms include aching, soreness and a red colour to the skin area.
In severe conditions, the blood clot can travel through the veins to the heart and can cause a blockage – a Pulmonary Embolism – which can be fatal if it travels to the lung. There are 67,000 known cases of DVT in the UK every year, but more worrying a 2016 report showed 4% of those flying over four hours suffer an asymptomatic DVT – suffering a DVT without symptom and the risk increases the more often you fly.
The NHS advises people travelling by plane should wear well-fitting compression stockings and there is a warning about ensuring the right fit – one study showed that off-the-shelf compression socks failed to fit 98% patients. Well-fitting compression helps by squeezing the blood from the outer veins into the deep veins in your calf and helping the blood flow back to your heart.
Vascular expert Professor Charles McCollum of the University of Manchester Hospital advises: “Well-fitting socks should be worn from the morning of your flight as there can be a lot of sitting around waiting at airports. I would advise avoiding alcohol and drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated as well as moving around every hour on the plane. Just a short trip to the toilet and back aids your blood flow. Keep the compression socks on for a couple of hours after the flight. The compression will stop any swelling in your legs and will help with that ‘heavy leg’ jet lag feeling.”
Andy won’t be taking any chances in the future. “I thought flight socks were for grannies. It didn’t even cross my mind that I would need to wear them and I’d never had any problems before. I will always wear flight socks in the future. Even my mum, dad and brother are getting them now after seeing what happened to me!”