How to Avoid Blood Clots While Traveling

There may have been times this spring when it didn’t feel like this was possible, but summer will soon be upon us.

(Of course, children in school know this since they’ve been counting down the days since basically last September.)

The summer season means a lot of different things. For many families out there, this is the time for traveling and vacations. If you and yours are going to either fly or (more likely) drive to your travel destination, we want you to be aware of a potential issue – and know how to take measures to prevent it from happening.

In this case, we are talking about deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

Now, that’s the technical name for this particular problem, but you might be more inclined to think about it as a blood clot that forms internally.

Blood clotting is quite normal (and necessary) to stop bleeding.

When clotting happens internally, though, it is a very serious condition. In fact, DVT can potentially be life-threatening.

It’s pretty scary to know that this can happen, but let’s take a look at how the problem develops and what can be done to prevent it.

Put simply, DVT develops when your blood pools during inactivity and thickens into a clot.

This condition is more likely to happen in the lower extremities, but you should be aware that it can also happen in your upper extremities (and other areas as well).

The problem really begins to emerge when a blood clot begins to travel within your circulatory system, and particularly if it makes its way to the lungs. This can cause something known as a pulmonary embolism.

In a pulmonary embolism, the blood clot blocks blood flow. When this happens, pretty much the best-case scenario is serious lung damage. At the other end of the spectrum, it could also lead to death – which highlights the importance of taking preventative measures.

DVT Risk Factors and Considerations

Travelers have a heightened risk for DVT, and especially those who travel long distances. Both airplane flights and long car trips can increase your risk, although that risk can be a bit higher on flights.

In addition to travel, another situation that raises the odds of DVT is when an individual is bedridden or immobile following surgery.

So, what is the common thread between travel and surgery recovery? Physical inactivity.

Internal blood clots can develop when you either sit or lie still for too long. The longer your body is immobile, the greater the risk for this condition.

That being said, some people have a greater risk than others, including:

  • Elderly travelers
  • Individuals who are overweight
  • Smokers
  • Individuals who recently suffered an injury or had surgery
  • Women who are pregnant or recently gave birth
  • Individuals with varicose veins
  • Individuals who are on estrogen-based hormone therapy or use estrogen-based forms of birth control
  • Individuals who have catheters
  • Individuals with either personal or familial history of blood clots

The good news is that blood clots do tend to be somewhat rare, but situations like the above can compound and increase your risk for them.

Recognizing the Signs of Blood Clots

If you develop this medical condition, it is essential to seek medical attention. In order to do so, you will have to know what to look out for.

Some of the most common symptoms of deep vein thrombosis are:

  • Unusual and/or prolonged swelling in your leg or arm
  • Unexplained tenderness or pain
  • Skin that is warmer and/or redder than normal (and especially in relation to the rest of your body)

DVT symptoms that are an indication you need immediate medical attention include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Light-headedness
  • An irregular or fast heartbeat
  • Fainting or coughing up blood – which are both signs of a pulmonary embolism

How to Prevent Blood Clots While Traveling

Yes, it is important to know (and be able to recognize) DVT symptoms. It’s even better, however, to prevent this problem from developing in the first place.

Preventative measures can drastically lower your risk of ending up with a life-threatening blood clot.

We want you and your family to actually enjoy your vacation—and not have to worry about an issue like this—so let’s take a look at ways you can avoid deep vein thrombosis.

If you think back to why this condition typically happens, it makes sense that a key preventive measure is to simply move around as much as possible during your travels.

In the case of flights, you should get up and out of your seat at least once per hour. (Hopefully you’ve booked an aisle seat!) Just walking to the far side and back will help promote better circulation and prevent clotting from occurring.

Keep in mind the fact that during air travel you’re usually cramped into a space that offers very little leg room (for those of us who don’t have the cash to spend on first class tickets). This means it’s not always the easiest to fully stretch out your legs.

That said, you can still move at least a bit. Bending and flexing your knees, ankles, and feet provides at least a certain degree of benefit. Combined with your (at least) hourly mini-walk, this can all serve to lower your DVT risk. Compression garments are great at reducing swelling by pushing blood back to the heart and also act as a bold fashion statement.

When you’re in a car, you have more leg room to work with (particularly if you are in one of the front seats).

In this case, you can do things like:

  • Extend your legs straight out, or at least as far as you can (this is easier for the passenger than driver).
  • Place your feet on the floor and alternate between raising your toes and heels. When your toes or heel is raised, hold the position for a few seconds.
  • Raise your feet off the floor and trace circles with your toes. For more variety—and to help time pass a little quicker—trace the letters of the alphabet.
  • Depending on available room and personal flexibility, alternate raising your knees up to your chest.

Of course, one benefit car travel has in this regard over flying is that you can stop on a more frequent basis.

Our society tends to be quite rushed. If you’re traveling, buck the trend!

Stop every once in a while, and get out of the car. When you do, take the time for a quick stretching session.

Walk around a bit – perhaps even exploring new, unfamiliar areas. When you do, you might find hidden “treasures” along the way, such as local restaurants or shops.

It is clearly important to move around when you travel for extended periods. If any of the aforementioned situations and conditions that increase blood clot risk pertain to you, then you may also want to speak with your primary care physician or come see us for additional advice.

When you do, we may need to refer you to a hematologist (a doctor specializing in blood conditions). This will depend on factors like your medical history, family history, and even physical condition.

A hematologist might be able to provide further prevention measures to help keep you safe, and make sure your vacation is memorable for the right reasons.

Comprehensive Foot Care in Indianapolis

Beyond the fact prevention measures can reduce your risk, we have some more good news about DVT – most blood clots actually dissolve on their own.

As the operative word is “most,” it is still in your best interest to avoid the problem from developing in the first place.

Those blood clot prevention tips for your travels will certainly help with that!

In the event you would like additional information on this subject—or you have any other lower limb concerns—give our Indianapolis office a call at (317) 545-0505 and we’ll be happy to help.

Until next time, safe travels!


9505 E. 59th St., Suite A
Indianapolis, IN 46216

Phone Number

(317) 545-0505

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