Blood Clots and Travel: Reducing Your Risk

More than 1 million people each year in the United States suffer from deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and/or pulmonary embolism, says John Fish, MD, FSVM, RPVI, director of vascular medicine with Jobst Vascular Institute.

“DVT occurs when a blood clot forms in a vein deep within the body, most often in the legs, though clots can develop in other parts of the body,” Dr. Fish says. If a blood clot breaks loose and flows into the blood stream, it can travel to the lungs where it can suddenly block blood supply. This blockage is called a pulmonary embolism.

“Clots can form due to chronic illnesses or injury to a vein and can also happen from limited movement, such as sitting for extended periods while traveling, being confined to bedrest after illness or surgery or wearing a cast to heal an injured bone,” Dr. Fish explains.

Because excessive sitting may cause blood clots, holiday travelers can be particularly at risk for the condition, if long car or plane rides are involved.

Symptoms of DVT include swelling of the calf or ankle, deep pain in the leg and coldness and discoloration of the skin. “The first sign is usually swelling,” Dr. Fish says. However, he adds that “clots can form with no symptoms at all.”

The risk for DVT increases with age, says Dr. Fish, but that “those with first degree relatives who developed the condition are likely at greater risk, especially if the relative’s clots were not caused by some easily identifiable cause, such as limited mobility, for example.”

Dr. Fish says pregnant women, some women taking birth control pills and people with cancer or, indeed, any other illness requiring extended bedrest are also at greater risk than the general population.

“It’s very important for anyone suspecting he or she has a blood clot or is in danger of developing one to see his or her primary physician,” urges Dr. Fish. Other helpful measures for those at risk include wearing compression socks to help combat edema and to help prevent clots from developing, avoiding excessive salt and alcohol and moving legs frequently.

Keeping in shape, walking frequently and moving calf muscles while traveling can also help prevent clots from forming, Fish says.

Learn more about risks, symptoms and treatment of DVT.