Blood clots: The scary side of holiday travel

Heart Health

by Baylor Scott & White Health

Dec 11, 2018

Whether you’ll be boarding a plane, hopping on a train or getting behind the wheel, you’ll likely be one of the millions of Americans joining the annual holiday travel rush. You’ve probably checked off the typical items on your preparation to-do list: making travel arrangements, buying gifts, finding a pet sitter, packing your suitcase and some healthy travel snacks.

But have you thought about your health during your travels?

If your trip spans several hours, you may be at risk of a blood clot known as deep vein thrombosis, or DVT.

Why you’re in danger of blood clots while you travel

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), these blood clots can be a serious risk for some long-distance travelers. The CDC warns that anyone traveling more than four hours, whether by air, car, bus or train, can be at risk for developing a DVT.

As a vascular surgeon, I diagnose and treat arterial and venous problems and frequently see patients with blood clots in the legs. Without proper medical therapy, these blood clots can be life threatening — even fatal.

DVTs form in the deep veins (veins below the surface that are not visible through the skin) of your legs during travel because you are sitting still in a confined space for long periods of time. The longer you are immobile, the greater the risk of developing a blood clot. If the blood clot breaks off and travels to your lungs, it can block an artery and create a life-threatening pulmonary embolism.

Preventing blood clots over long distance trips

The good news is, there are things you can do to protect your health and reduce your risk of developing blood clots during long distance travel.

  1. Get up occasionally and walk around. If you’re traveling by air, get up about every 2-3 hours. If you’re in a car, plan breaks in your travel schedule so you can stretch and walk around.
  2. Exercise your calf muscles and stretch your legs while you’re sitting. 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.
  3. Wear properly fitted compression stockings.
  4. Wear loose clothing and comfortable shoes.
  5. Drink lots of water. Keeping adequately hydrated reduces your chances of developing a DVT.
  6. Be aware of blood clot symptoms. Half of people with a DVT have no symptoms at all. However, the most common symptoms include: swelling of your leg or arm, pain or tenderness that you can’t explain, skin that is warm to the touch, and redness of the skin. If you suspect you have a blood clot, seek medical help immediately. A DVT is usually treatable with medicine or devices used to dissolve or break up the clot. Typically, 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.
  7. Discuss any personal or family history of developing blood clots or a clotting disorder with your doctor.
  8. If you are on blood thinning medication, talk to your doctor before you travel.

Related: Preparing for medical emergencies when you travel

Don’t let a medical emergency ruin your dream vacation. Be prepared and proactive. Bon voyage!

Worried about your health while you travel? Talk to a doctor before you head out.

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