Travel Advice

A Travel Warning

24 Comments 05 October 2011


Keep moving!

It’s my sister’s birthday today and I’ve decided to write this blog post for her birthday present. No bows or unwrapping required. Yes, this is what budget bloggers do instead of buying presents…we write. After all, my sister doesn’t need more stuff in her life, but she could use a good Facebook wall update and some tweets.

Strangely this birthday present post has to do with travel and quite frankly something you should all be interested – so don’t tune out…listen up… I promise I won’t make you sing at the end!

Do you ever feel like the universe is speaking to you; tapping you on the shoulder and giving you a stern look that says, “Hey you – pay attention!” Ever since I returned to Mongolia the Universe has spoken to me. It started with my friend David telling me about a co-worker of his who had a sister in the hospital who just had her toes amputated due to a blood clot in her leg that was found too late. Unfortunately the surgery didn’t work and she would be losing her lower leg in the coming days.

A week later I had a call from my sister. It started out normal as I was hopping on a plane the next day to go see her so I figured she was calling about picking me up at the airport. However after the small talk hellos, she said, “I’m in the hospital.” My heart sank and my voice dropped to a serious low octave. “What’s wrong?” I replied.

Dali hiking

Cyndi and I hiking in Dali China

She went on to tell me that in the morning she had completely fainted for no reason at home and luckily came to and went to the doctor to see what was wrong. They found blood clots in her legs – Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), and one had broken free and passed through her heart to her lungs otherwise known as a Pulmonary Embolism (PE). At the point where the clot passed through her heart and into her lung –she fainted.

Now my sister is as healthy as possible. To say that she’s a running and exercise enthusiast is an understatement…fanatic…a bit closer…addicted is probably more like it. (Yes – she’s is probably hating this birthday post right now…) So why all of a sudden was she literally floored one day before her 51st birthday?

This is where travel comes into the story…


Flight Danger

Four days earlier she had returned from a long haul flight from Singapore to Minneapolis. A flight she had taken many times before as she used to live as an expat in Singapore for years. Long haul flights, dehydration, and immobility associated with those flights are a known cause of DVT.

My sister is now out of the hospital, but DVT is not quickly fixed – it sticks with you for upwards of 9 months in the form of medication (blood thinners) that you must take to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Also, currently she has to give herself shots in the abdomen to prevent clotting. All of this medication means no drinking (or very little drinking for 9 months…boo) She joked around that it was like pregnancy…but you really get no reward at the end!

DVT Facts:
A Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) is a clotting of the blood in any of the deep veins – usually in the calf. If a clot develops, it usually makes its presence known by an intense pain in the affected calf. Medical attention should be sought immediately if this occurs, especially after a long journey. In some cases this can be fatal, if the clot breaks off and makes its way to the lungs where it can then affect the lung’s ability to take in oxygen. The DVT risk applies to any form of travel where you are stuck in one place for hours at the time (train, car/bus, or plane)

DVT Symptoms:
DVT can occur some days or even weeks after a trip. In most situations the person will have no symptoms and through normal movement the clot will break up. A large clot can prevent the blood flowing through the veins. When this happens a person might experience pain, redness and swelling in the calf – this pain is made worse when walking or standing. Complications can occur if the clot breaks off and travels to the lungs, blocking the flow of blood. Breathlessness and chest pain can occur hours or days after the clot formation in the calf. This is a potentially fatal condition and urgent medical attention is required.

Reducing your risk:
Those at risk should try to exercise at least every hour on long journeys. Get up and walk around every hour if possible. Exercise the calf muscles by rotating your ankles. Stay well hydrated. Some people also recommend to take aspirin daily 4 days before and after a long haul flight or long journey.

Strangely after this whole episode happened with my sister, I continued to hear stories of DVT from friends of friends randomly. How could these three little letters be so prevalent in my conversations where it never existed before? The Universe was speaking to me.

I’m on long haul flights frequently and I recall hearing things about this in the past; seeing little exercise and stretching diagrams in the backs of seat pockets, but I never really paid attention. In fact, I normally pop a sleeping pill and try to move as little as possible on a long haul flight. However, now I will take heed; I will get up every hour and walk, I will stretch, and I will drink liquids that aren’t solely alcohol. My perfectly healthy sister landing in the ICU was all I needed to jolt me into paying attention; hopefully it did the same for you.

FYI – I’m writing this post at 30,000 feet from the plane on my way to San Francisco; and yes I just got up and walked around and I didn’t even have to go to the bathroom. I also ordered lemonade. So my dear travelers – you should too.

A BIG Happy Birthday to my sister Cyndi who turns 51 years young today! I’m relieved you are ok. Sorry I’m cheap and didn’t get you a present!

Have you or anyone you know ever experienced DVT from long flights or travel? Tell us about it in the comments.

Your Comments

24 Comments so far

  1. Thanks for the warning Sherry. Although I’m aware of DVT (my mother suffered a clot and thankfully survived) I always thought it happened to older, over weight women – not healthy, active, young women. I, too, will now take head of the stretching exercises in the seat pocket and get up and move around more. And Happy Birthday to your sister!

  2. NLM says:

    Happy Birthday to your sister!

    Thanks for the reminder about DVT–now the universe is talking to all of us.

    Here is my take on long flights (although I might have to do an update now…)

    Glad you’re back safely, but I’m going to miss the Mongolia posts.


  3. wftristan says:

    Hello Sherry – Great and Informative Post –
    Deep Vein Thrombosis is something we actively cover in our specialised Travel Insurance –

    Its unfortunately one of those things people tend to overlook until its too late.

    here is the link to our dedicated Deep Vein Thrombosis Travel Insurance

    many Thanks


    PS We would still be keen to have you do a guest Blog Post when you get time.


  4. Emilia says:

    Hi, Sherry!
    The universe was (and is) speaking to me, too…Two days after hearing a story similar to your sister’s, I myself had the same diagnosis, althought lighter: fortunately I didn’t have clogs broken free from the clot in my left calf. But I had to stay in bed, take the shots and I’m now under anti-coagulants.
    It was scary…it’s already two months and I’m still around it, with the medication and blood tests, pressure stockings and all. I travel long haul flights some times a year and my doctor says that the stockings are vital. I have also to apply myself one shot before every one of these flights.
    I’m glad you wrote this post as it is something that may affect the lives of frequent travelers. Although mine was not derived from a flight, now that I had I know how important it is to prevent. One other thing: one of the most vital items in prevention is the use of compression stockings, and I’m advising everyone I know about it. It is a simple precaution that can avoid a lot of worry.
    A big kiss for you!
    PS1: A very happy birthday for your sister!
    PS2: I was quiet these times, but I have followed your odissey and I absolutely loved every pic and story about the Mongol Rally! You’re really one tough and adventurous girl :-)

  5. Betsy Talbot says:

    What a scary time for your sister! I’m like Gillian – I always thought DVT was for overweight, inactive people.

    As someone gearing up for 13 hours of flying next week, this is very timely. Instead of dozing like usual, I will make sure to take some breaks, get some exercise, and stay hydrated even if means having to use the airplane bathroom more (which I hate). Small price to pay for staying healthy. I’m also going to try the aspirin for 4 days before/after trick.

    Thanks for posting this. And happy birthday to your sister!

  6. Carmel says:

    As I’m leaving in 9 days for a trip to NYC from the west coast and we only have a stop in Denver, not a layover, I will be sure to take this advice. Luckily I have to pee a lot, so I get up often anyway, but now I’m going to be extra cautious. How scary!

  7. Glenda J says:

    Wow – I’ve heard of DVT but never thought it could happen to someone young and healthy. I always get up during flights… will definitely be increasing the frequency of that now!
    Thanks – great post.

  8. That’s terrible. Sorry to hear about that happening to your sister. Hope she’s doing better now.

    Thank you for the reminder about moving and stretching on a plane ride.

    Nancy & Shawn

  9. Jennifer says:

    Sherry, my cowriter Beth is a flight attendant. She and our mutual friend Anya collaborated on this helpful piece:

    Those socks (compression legwear, I should say) should help, along with the tips you mentioned about moving around and staying hydrated. DVT is an important health issue for frequent travelers like us to consider. Thank you!

  10. Kim says:

    This is a great reminder Sherry. I’d heard of DVT but never thought I had anything to worry about. I’ll be moving around on flights more, and drinking water instead of alcohol (or maybe just water with my alcohol 😉

  11. Sherry, this is such a great reminder. It’s been easy to think this can’t happen to me. Wrong! I’ll definitely be more vigilant in the future.

    I’m happy your sister is recovery well. Happy birthday to her! (This is a lovely gift!)

  12. Erik says:

    Scary! Good to know. I had kidney stones earlier this year and the doctor said dehydration probably played a role in those. All the more reason to stay hydrated!

  13. Sherry, sorry to hear about your sister. I work in healthcare (when I am not off traveling around the world) and we see DVTs in all kinds of people. Blood clots do not discriminate. Here are some risk factors for the ladies:

    1) Smokers
    2) On oral birth control
    3) Fly a lot (or travel a lot where you are sitting)

    I had a patient once who was in her late 20’s, flew a lot for work, smoked and was on oral BC. Guess what she had? Bilateral PEs due to DVT in her legs….she was in the hospital for several days before she could even consider flying home.

    Before taking aspirin 4 days before you fly, I would consult with a physician. That can also be dangerous if you have an unknown bleeding disorder.

    The rest of your advice was spot on. Get up and walk if you can on long haul flights. Drink lots of water, stay away from caffeine and alcohol. By drinking lots of water, this also makes you get up to go to the bathroom, which is good to get up and walk around. Staying hydrated is very important. Compression stockings are also a good idea, but not always necessary.

    I hope your sister has a speedy recovery!

    • Sherry says:

      Thanks for chiming in with a professional opinion. The strange thing is that my sister fit none of those risk factors at all. So I guess that’s why I wanted people to be aware. After being released from the hospital her Doctor told her compression socks weren’t necessary probably becuase she wasn’t in a high risk category…who knows! Regardless – it certainly made me think twice about how I approach long haul flights!

      • Yeah, I figured your sister didn’t fit any of those risk factors….but it is interesting to know. The patient I was referring to had never been told by her doctor that she shouldn’t smoke and take oral BC. It was a surprise to her when we finally figured out what was wrong with her!

        Also, if you are sedentary for any reason…say you had knee surgery or something where you were on bed rest or just not moving around as much, that’s also another risk factor. So keep moving! :)

        I am glad you posted this information, though. I don’t think enough people understand how easy it is to get DVTs, or how common it is. It can affect anyone. It’s always good to be aware. Thanks for posting!

  14. Something we all need to take more seriously. Thanks for reminding us all!

  15. Anis Salvesen says:

    Wow! I never considered myself at risk. Thanks for shining the spotlight on this. Embarrassingly, I always thought pregnant people and older people were the only ones really at risk.

  16. Carolina Botelho says:

    Hi Sherry,

    Thank you so much for sharing this. The tweet really caught my attention and maybe it is the universe saying to me to pay attention as well.

    I’m always in airplanes, heard about DVT but also never did anything…

    From now on I will do the same you are doing :)

    Happy Bday to your sister.


  17. NLM says:

    It’s actually MY sister’s birthday today, so what a coincidence that I linked to you today. Hope it drives some traffic your way!

    PS-I’m going to my first MPG tomorrow!

    • Sherry says:

      Loved your post! Thanks so much for letting me know about it. You don’t have to go away for a year – but maybe a month or two would be just the break you are looking for!
      Where are you located again – which Meet Plan Go will you be attending? Enjoy it and be sure to meet lots of people in your community who have your same love of travel!

  18. rob says:

    Weirdly appropriate post. I literally just got off the 10-hour Frankfurt->Denver flight (well, a few hours ago) and was randomly thinking about DVT before and on the flight. I got up enough times to ensure the person with the aisle seat no doubt thought I had a bladder problem and spent a good hour of the 10 hours stretching and doing squats back by the bathrooms. Hope your fanatical sister recovers faster than the norm, and without any further side-effects…

  19. Roberto says:

    Sherry, I didn’t know that you came to San Francisco, I live in the San Francisco bay area, and I am a reader of your blog. Next time let me know that you are coming around and we can eat a burrito together. Mi casa es tu casa.

    • Sherry says:

      Aw – thanks! Yes – my blogging is generally a few weeks behind where I’m really at! I need to do a better job of keeping my “Where am I now” line updated on my right hand side bar! Sorry! Thanks for reading and following the site!
      Next time I hope to meet you.

  20. Linda says:

    Very important tips and great reminders! Thank you. As a side note, back in my smoking days when I would take long flights my legs would hurt. When I quit smoking the leg pain on long flights went away too.

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Sherry traveling the world

I'm Sherry, a corporate cube dweller turned nomadic traveler. I travel to off-the-beaten-path destinations to bring you unique travel experiences and photography. But it's not just about travel, it's also about life experiences of a middle age wanderer.
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Where am I and Where am I going?

Minnesota/Wisconsin -> Nebraska

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