Patient story: "I got DVT from flying."

Journalist Mark Pownall from north London developed deep vein thrombosis (DVT) on a long-haul flight from New Orleans to London.

He'd been in the US for a medical conference in March 2004, reporting on topics including DVT. The night before his journey home, Mark had a few drinks.

The flight was hard work, with a six-hour transit in Washington DC because ofdelays. "Door to door, it was a 20-hour trip," said Mark.

"I arrived at Heathrow feelinglike I'd slept quite badly. I felt a cramp in my left leg, and it got worse over the next few days."

It was only when Mark began limping because of the pain that he got medical attention at the insistence of his wife, Jill.

"My leg was hot and swollen," said Mark. His GP diagnosed DVT and he was sent to the Whittington Hospital in north London, where he received an ultrasound that found a blood clot stretching from his calf to his mid-thigh. "The clot had spread quite a bit."

Mark was kept in hospital and had toremain there for a few days. He received daily injections of the anti-clotting treatment heparin and was put on a course of Warfarin tablets to prevent further blood clots .

"It's ironic that I got DVT after attending a conference about it," says Mark. "I should have known better and gone straight to my GP."

Doctors were puzzled by Mark's DVT. He didn't have any of the risk factors; he was male, a non-smoker, he was a healthy weight and had no family history of DVT. They said the long flight, dehydration and a lack of movement contributed to it.

After six months, Mark stopped taking warfarin because doctors thought he was unlikely to have another clot. But he did. In June 2007, Mark developed pain in the same leg, and the consequences could have been far worse.

"It was a dull muscular pain, which came and went," says Mark. But even then, despite having experienced DVT, Mark didn't realise what it was. "I think I was in denial," he says.

After a few days, he developed severe chest pains. He went to hospital, where a spiral CT scan found five blood clots in his lungs, known as a pulmonary embolism (PE) . "Part of the clot in my leg had broken off and got into my pulmonary artery," says Mark. PE isa potentially fatal condition.

Mark was in hospital for four days, where he was treated with heparin and warfarin. "I was very lucky," says Mark. "I was healthy and that's why Im still alive.

"With the first DVT I just thought I was unlucky, but with the second one it was the first time I'd come face to face with my own mortality.

"Doctors blamed the PE on the fact that I was sitting down for hours on end at my desk without moving, and not drinking enough water," he says.

Mark is now in a high-risk category and he'll probably need to continue taking warfarin for the rest of his life. When flying, he wears compression stockings to boost the circulation in his legs(flight socks have a similar effect).

"During the flight I make sure I drink water regularly, don't drink alcohol or coffee, and exercise," he says. "I try not to fall asleep either because that means I'm not moving."

Content supplied by the NHS Website

Medically Reviewed by a doctor on 28 Nov 2016