The holiday months are here, which means many of us will travel to celebrate with friends and family. While it’s an exciting time, it’s crucial to remember that travel, specifically air travel, can cause blood clots. Also known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT), blood clots pose serious risks to travels.
DVT occurs when a blood clot forms in a large vein. While some clots dissolve on their own, others can break off and travel to the lungs, which causes blockage of arteries in the lungs known as a pulmonary embolism. While this is rare, it is life-threatening, so you should be aware of DVT during travel.
Who is at risk for deep vein thrombosis?
People who are traveling for a long time (typically on international flights) are more at risk for developing a blood clot. Cramped airline seats and sitting in the same position for a long time can slow blood flow in the veins of your legs, causing DVT. While this condition is more likely to occur during air travel, it can also happen during long car, bus, or train trips.
There are a variety of other risk factors, including:
- Previous blood clot or family history of blood clots
- Women who are pregnant or recently gave birth
- People who use estrogen-based birth control or are on estrogen-based hormone therapy
- Older age
- People with varicose veins
- Those who recently suffered an injury or recently had surgery
- People with cancer or who are undergoing chemotherapy
- Those who have limited movement or mobility
What to watch out for: Symptoms of DVT
Symptoms of DVT include swelling or pain in the affected area (typically the leg), unexplained pain, and skin that is red or warm to the touch. Symptoms of a pulmonary embolism include difficulty breathing, quickened heartbeat, chest pain that worsens with coughing or deep breathing, lightheadedness or fainting, coughing up blood, or extremely low blood pressure. If you experience any of these symptoms, contact a doctor immediately.
Preventing DVT during travel
Many guidelines say that if you plan to travel for more than four hours, you are at risk for a blood clot. Here are tips to prevent DVT.
Walk around frequently
When flying, make sure to get up at least every 2-3 hours and walk around. Some passengers choose an aisle seat for this reason, so they can get up and down more frequently. Those traveling by car should plan breaks in travel to get out, stretch, and move around.
Stretch when possible
If flying or if you’re a passenger on a train, bus, or in the car, make sure to stretch your leg muscles frequently throughout the trip. Raise and lower your heels while keeping your heels on the floor, then raise and lower your toes while keeping your heels on the floor, and lastly, try to tighten and release calf muscles. These exercises will help stretch your legs and can be done from a seated or standing position.
Talk to your doctor about compression stockings or medication
Anyone with long-distance travel coming up for the holidays should call their doctor now to get information on how to prevent DVT, their risk factor, and any requirements for travel.
Especially for those at high risk, your doctor may want you to wear over-the-counter or specially fitted compression stockings. Your physician may also recommend blood-thinning medication depending on your history, current health, and risk factors.