Many Americans will travel over the winter months. Some of them are at a higher risk of forming a blood clot in a large vein. Known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT), long periods of sitting, like when traveling, cause this dangerous condition.
What you need to know about DVT
You may be at an increased risk for DVT if you’ll be traveling for four hours or more in a setting where you are confined to a small space that limits movement. Sitting for a long time can slow blood flow in your leg veins, causing the blood to clump and form a clot. DVT usually occurs in the legs.
If a blood clot breaks off, it can travel through the bloodstream to the lung. There, it can block oxygenated blood from reaching the lung. Known as a pulmonary embolism (PE), this can cause shortness of breath, chest pain and coughing. In some cases, it can be deadly.
You may be at a greater risk for developing a DVT if you:
Have a clotting disorder, a previous blot clot or a family history of blood clots
Have recently been hospitalized or had surgery
Are taking estrogen-containing hormones
Are pregnant or were recently pregnant
Are age 65 or older
Have limited movement or are obese
Have serious illnesses such as cancer, congestive heart failure or inflammatory bowel disease
Prevent blood clots during travel
There are steps you can take to prevent a DVT from forming during travel, including:
For air travel, choose an aisle seat so you can easily stand and stretch every 2 to 3 hours
For land travel, build in travel breaks to walk around
Stretch your calf muscles by raising and lowering your toes and heels
Tighten and release leg muscles
Drink lots of water or other non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated fluids
Avoid crossing your legs
Wear loose-fitting clothing
If you have an increased risk for DVT, talk with your doctor about extra precautions, such as:
Wearing compression stockings that have been properly fit
Taking blood-thinning medications before travel to prevent blood clots
Stay alert for DVT or PE symptoms
Blood clots can take time to form. Seek medical care if you experience any of these symptoms after you travel:
Swelling or tenderness in the leg
Skin redness or discoloration
An area of skin that is warmer than the surrounding skin
Breathing difficulty or chest pain
Coughing up blood
Lightheadedness or fainting
Rapid heart rate
A doctor may perform tests to look for clots including ultrasound, computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). To treat DVT or pulmonary embolism, your doctor may use medicines to dissolve the clot or devices to break up the clot.
The UCLA Gonda Venous Center provides comprehensive diagnosis and treatment of disorders such as DVT. Contact us to schedule an appointment or ask your provider for a referral.