No one wants to think about potential health issues when traveling. Unfortunately, long car rides or flights raise your risk of getting a blood clot, spoiling your vacation, or worse. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) estimates that 900,000 people are affected by blood clots each year, and 100,000 die as a result. The most common type of blood clot is called a deep vein thrombosis (DVT), and it can lead to a life-threatening condition known as a pulmonary embolism.
March is national Deep Vein Thrombosis Awareness Month and a popular time for making a spring getaway, so it’s a good time to assess your risk and take these simple, preventive steps: Know your risk, know the symptoms, and move around.
What is a Deep Vein Thrombosis?
Blood is supposed to flow easily throughout the body, and it should only clot when you have a cut. A blood clot is a mass of blood forming where it should not, within a vein or artery. A DVT is a blood clot in a vein, usually in the leg, thigh, or pelvis. If it breaks loose and travels toward the lungs, this can cause a life-threatening condition called a pulmonary embolism.
Know Your Risk
No matter your risk for DVT, it can increase when you sit still for journeys of 4 hours or more. Why? Sitting for long periods slows blood flow in the veins of the legs. Most people who develop a DVT during travel have some of these risk factors:
- A previous blood clot
- Family history of blood clots
- A clotting disorder
- A recent surgery, hospitalization, or injury
- The use of birth control containing estrogen
- Receiving hormone replacement therapy
- Current or recent pregnancy
- Older age
If you have any of these risk factors, talk to your doctor about precautions you can take prior to long-distance travel, such as wearing compression stockings or taking medication to prevent blood clots.
Know the Symptoms
If you have DVT symptoms, call your doctor as soon as possible. If you have symptoms indicating that your DVT may have become a pulmonary embolism, seek immediate care from a doctor or hospital. Doctors often can help your body dissolve blood clots with medicine or a device.
DVT Symptoms (call your doctor)
- Swelling, pain, or tenderness in the affected limb (usually the leg)
- Unexplained pain or tenderness
- Skin that is red and warm to the touch
Pulmonary Embolism Symptoms (seek immediate care from a doctor or hospital)
- Difficulty breathing
- Faster-than-normal heartbeat
- Chest pain that usually gets worse when you cough or breathe deeply
- Coughing up blood
- Very low blood pressure, lightheadedness, or fainting
Any movement in your lower body helps increase blood flow. Whether you are in a car, plane, or train, make a point to move around at least every 2-3 hours — preferably more often. Here are some tips:
- When flying or riding on a train or bus, choose an aisle seat, so that you can get up more easily.
- Plan specific rest stops on your journey ahead of time.
- Occasionally tighten and release your leg muscles and glutes while sitting.
- Flex your toes in both directions.
- Raise and lower your heels with your toes on the floor.
Click here to learn more about deep vein thrombosis; if you or someone you know may be experiencing symptoms of DVT, schedule an appointment with the UAB Vein Clinic by clicking here.
DVT can result in a life-threatening pulmonary embolism. Learn more here: Pulmonary Embolism – UAB Medicine. If you are experiencing symptoms of pulmonary embolism, seek immediate medical treatment.