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Traveling? Take these steps to prevent blood clots during your summer travels

  • May 24, 2022
Anyone traveling more than four hours by air, car or bus can be at risk for blood clots. The director of the UAB Vein Center provides tips on how to prevent blood clots when traveling.

DVT Travel StreamAnyone traveling more than four hours by air, car or bus can be at risk for blood clots. The director of the UAB Vein Center provides tips on how to prevent blood clots when traveling.No one wants to think about potential health issues when traveling, but unfortunately, long car rides and flights can raise travelers’ risk of getting blood clots. With summer travels around the corner, Marc Passman, M.D., professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham Division of Vascular Surgery and Endovascular Therapy and director of the UAB Vein Program and UAB Vein Clinic, encourages everyone to assess their risk of blood clots and take preventive steps during their summer travels this year.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 900,000 people are affected by blood clots each year, and 100,000 of those affected die as a result. The most common type of blood clot is called a deep vein thrombosis, which occurs when there is a clot that forms within the deep veins of the body typically located in the legs, thighs or pelvis. If a clot breaks loose and travels toward the lungs, it could result in a life-threatening condition known as a pulmonary embolism, meaning that one or more of the arteries in the lungs are blocked.

Know the risks

A person’s risk of DVT can increase when they sit still on trips for four hours or more. Sitting for long periods of time 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 risk factors for DVT, talk to your doctor about precautions you can take prior to long-distance travel,” Passman said. “Some precautions include wearing compression socks or taking medications to prevent blood clots. Your doctor can help you determine which precautions are best for you.”

Know the symptoms

A DVT usually forms in a deep vein or an arm or leg. Although about half of the people affected by DVT will not develop symptoms, it is important to know the symptoms because DVT is preventable and treatable if discovered early.

Some symptoms of DVT include the following:  

  • Unexplained swelling or tenderness in the affected limb
  • Pain in the affected part of the body
  • Skin that is red and warm to the touch

A life-threatening complication of DVT is a pulmonary embolism. Seek emergency medical help if experiencing any of the following symptoms of pulmonary embolism:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Faster-than-normal heartbeat
  • Chest pain or discomfort, which usually worsens with a deep breath or coughing
  • Coughing up blood
  • Very low blood pressure, lightheadedness or fainting 

The diagnosis of DVT or PE requires special tests that can only be performed by a doctor.

Head shot of Dr. Marc Passman, MD (Professor, Surgery - Vascular), 2016.Marc Passman, M.D., professor in the UAB Division of Vascular Surgery and Therapy and director of the UAB Vein Program and UAB Vein Clinic.
Photography: Steve Wood
“If you are experiencing DVT symptoms, call your doctor as soon as possible,” Passman said. “If your symptoms begin to indicate that your DVT may have become a pulmonary embolism, you should seek immediate care from a doctor or hospital. Health care providers can often help your body dissolve blood clots with medicine or medical devices.”

Move around 

Sitting for long periods of time can slow blood circulation, which can increase a person’s chance of DVT. Any movement in the body can help increase blood flow, so whether travelers are in a car, plane or train, Passman recommends making a point to move around every two to three hours — preferably more often.  

Here are some tips for preventing DVT while traveling:

  • When flying or riding on a train or bus, choose an aisle seat that makes getting up and moving throughout the cabin easier.
  • Plan specific rest stops along the journey ahead of time.
  • Occasionally tighten and release leg muscles and glutes while sitting.
  • Flex toes in both directions.
  • Try raising and lowering one’s heels by keeping toes on the floor.

“DVT is a serious condition that can become life-threatening if not treated,” Passman said. “By knowing the signs and symptoms of DVT and taking precautions while traveling, you can help reduce your risk of potential health issues during your summer travels.”

Learn more about DVT and the UAB Vein Clinic here.