Prevent Blood Clots

Traveling often includes sitting for periods of time, which can increase your chances of developing a deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a type of blood clot that forms in a large vein. Part of the clot can break off and travel to the lungs, causing a sudden blockage of arteries in the lung, known as a pulmonary embolism. Though these types of blot clots are rare, they are very serious and can cause death. Find out what steps you can take to prevent blood clots during travel.

passengers on a plane

Blood Clot Risk Factors

Sitting for a long time without getting up and walking around can cause blood to pool in the veins of your legs. This can lead to blood clots.

Other conditions increase your chances of getting blood clots, including

  • Having had a previous blood clot
  • Family history of blood clots
  • Known clotting disorder
  • Recent surgery, hospitalization, or injury
  • Use of estrogen-containing birth control or hormone replacement therapy
  • Current or recent pregnancy
  • Older age
  • Obesity
  • Cancer or cancer treatment such as chemotherapy
  • Serious medical conditions (for example, congestive heart failure or inflammatory bowel disease)

Prevent Blood Clots During Travel

Take steps to prevent blood clots.

  • Stand up or walk occasionally.
    • Select an aisle seat when possible so you can walk around every 2-3 hours.
    • If traveling by car, include breaks in your travel schedule to stretch and walk around.
  • Exercise your calf muscles and stretch your legs while you're sitting. Try these exercises next time you travel:
    • Raise and lower your heels while keeping your toes on the floor.
    • Raise and lower your toes while keeping your heels on the floor.
    • Tighten and release your leg muscles.
  • Talk to your doctor about wearing compression stockings or taking medicine before departure if you have additional risk factors for blood clots.
  • Taking aspirin to prevent blood clots when traveling is not recommended. If you take aspirin for other reasons, check with your doctor.

Recognize and Treat Blood Clots

It is helpful to know the symptoms so you can recognize if you develop blood clots.

Deep vein thrombosis symptoms
  • Swelling, pain, or tenderness in the affected area (usually the leg)
  • Unexplained pain or tenderness
  • Skin that is red and warm to the touch
Pulmonary embolism symptoms
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Faster than normal heartbeat
  • Chest pain that usually gets worse when you cough or breathe deeply
  • Coughing up blood
  • Lightheadedness or fainting

If you have symptoms, seek medical care immediately. Finding and treating these conditions early can prevent death and complications.

To diagnose a deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism doctors use a variety of tests such as ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI to look for clots.

Blood clots are usually treated using medicines or devices that dissolve, break up, remove, or capture the clot. Usually, medicines are taken for several weeks or months to prevent more clots from forming and to give the body a chance to dissolve or heal existing clots.

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