It is well known that long-distance travel confers a small increased risk of venous thromboembolism (VTE) such as blood clots, deep venous thrombosis (DVT) or pulmonary embolism (PE). The rates are higher in those who travel for prolonged periods, and are greatest in the first two weeks after travel.
There are times when extended travel is unavoidable. So how can you avoid developing blood clots during flights or long drives? And if you’ve already been diagnosed with DVT, is it safe to?
Preventing Blood Clots While Flying
Sitting for extended periods of time, especially in cramped areas like airplane seats or compact cars, can slow blood circulation and contribute to the development of blood clots. Before you take on long-distance travel, it’s important to understand your current risks.
Patients are at an increased risk for blood clots with:
- 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 (risk increases with age)
- Active cancer (or undergoing chemotherapy)
- Other serious illnesses, including congestive heart failure or inflammatory bowel disease
- Limited movement (like being in a leg cast)
Travelers on a flight or drives of less than 6 hours and those with no known risk factors for blood clot risks, regardless of the duration of the flight, do not need DVT prophylaxis.
Those with one or multiple risk factors should be even more careful when travelling long-distance. Compression socks are encouraged for these patients. If possible, take frequent walking breaks (at least once an hour) to improve blood circulation throughout the legs. Try other stretches, like calf pumps, to exercise leg muscles when seated.
Traveling After a Vein Treatment
For patients that have recently had a vein treatment, we do not advise long-distance travel – especially travel out of the country – soon after a procedure.
Risks can be mitigated for shorter trips where patients can get up and move regularly. If any symptoms appear or there is any other concern, patients that travel anywhere in the U.S. have the option of visiting an ER or urgent care. But those who travelled outside of the U.S. may not have easy access to medical professionals, or their insurance may not cover them.
Flying with DVT
If you have been diagnosed with DVT, it’s important to wait for clearance from your doctor to fly.
Once a DVT patient has been approved for travel, many are able to fly without issue. However, all should take additional precautions to ensure safety and comfort during long-distance travel:
- Wear compression stockings
- Choose options with more leg room (aisle or emergency seats on flights, etc)
- Opt for loose-fitting, comfortable clothing
- Stay hydrated!
If you are on blood thinners, also known as anticoagulants, be sure to follow your doctor’s recommendations on medication use.
What to Watch for While Traveling?
The typical signs and symptoms of a blood clot include leg swelling, redness, pain in the calf or thigh. Its usually in one leg, but can be in both. In some case, one might have chest pain, which can indicate a clot has broken free in the veins and traveled to the lungs. This is known as a pulmonary embolism. If you suspect a blood clot, its important to seek medical attention in an emergency setting or call 911. Once at the hospital or clinic, the care providers will take your history, evaluate your complaints and will often obtain a venous ultrasound which can visualize the deeper veins and detect a clot in most cases.
No matter your medical history, ALWAYS monitor your symptoms closely within the first 48 hours after travel.
Evaluate Your Blood Clot Risk
If you believe you may be at risk of a blood clot and would like to be evaluated, simply fill out our Online Appointment Request Form or call any of our clinics in Northwest Portland , Tigard, Happy Valley, Hillsboro or Bend, Oregon.