How Long Airplane Trips Can Cause Deep Vein Clots in Your Legs

People who take long plane trips or fly frequently are at an increased risk for life-threatening blood clots. Sitting and remaining immobile for prolonged periods is a major risk factor for deep vein thrombosis, a condition that occurs when blood clots form in the deep veins within the body, often the legs.

Blood clots are a rare, yet serious, risk for frequent flyers and anyone taking a long trip. Here, we’ve gathered information that you should know if you travel frequently or have a long flight planned soon.

Deep vein thrombosis

The circulatory system is an amazing circuit that transports oxygen, nutrients, and hormones to the cells in your body. This vast network of organs and blood vessels keeps your cells healthy. Any disruption to the flow of oxygenated blood is potentially life-threatening.

Blood clots are the most common cause of blood flow blockage. Clots that develop in the deep veins are referred to as deep vein thrombosis, and the prolonged immobility on long flights puts you at risk.

Blood clots in your veins can cause serious harm. Clots can break off and travel through the bloodstream to other areas of your body and block blood flow. For example, a pulmonary embolism occurs when a clot lodges in the lungs and blocks blood flow. In most cases, pulmonary embolism is caused by blood clots that form in the legs. It’s a life-threatening situation that requires immediate medical attention.

Here’s what you need to know to prevent blood clots.

Warning signs and risks of blood clots when traveling

Whether you’re taking a road trip in a car or flying across the country, being immobile for four hours or longer puts you at risk for blood clots. Look out for these warning signs:

It’s wise to get checked out if you experience one or more of these symptoms during travel or even if you’re on bed rest for a different condition. The sooner you’re evaluated, the better.

Understanding your risk is key to preventing blood clots. Common risk factors are:

At CA Heart and Vein Specialists, Dr. Majed Chane and our team can use imaging, typically ultrasound, to check your veins. If we determine that you have a blood clot, a blood-thinning medication can prevent the clot from growing and reduce your risk of new clots forming. If necessary, Dr. Chane may prescribe medication to break up the clot.

Preventing blood clots when traveling

Taking some practical steps when you travel can help lower your chances of blood clots. Here’s what we recommend.

Stay hydrated

It’s easy to forget to drink water when you’re rushing to catch your flight — and grabbing a caffeinated beverage and drinking alcohol makes the situation worse. Dehydration causes blood vessels to narrow and blood to thicken, boosting your risk of developing a blood clot.

It’s important to keep yourself hydrated daily, especially when you plan to travel. Drink plenty of water before, during, and after your flight. If you take a nap during your flight, drink water before you drift off to sleep and remember to have some water when you wake up.

Perform mobility exercises

Sitting for prolonged periods causes blood to pool in your legs and increases the likelihood of developing a blood clot. It isn’t always practical to stand up and walk down the aisle to get your blood pumping, so we recommend mobility exercises. You can do these from your seat.

Simple exercises like calf raises and calf stretches get your circulation going as the muscle contractions push stagnant blood out of your legs. Our team can demonstrate these exercises so you can protect yourself against blood clots.

Traveling and blood clot prevention

Staying hydrated and performing mobility exercises are the best tools for slashing your risk of blood clots when flying. If you have a history of blood clots, talk to your doctor before taking a flight longer than four hours. If you absolutely must take a long flight and have a history or blood clots, your doctor may prescribe a low dose of blood-thinning medication.

There’s no good way to predict which clots may cause life-threatening complications such as pulmonary embolism. If you’re concerned about your risk or to learn more about what you can do to protect yourself against blood clots, make an appointment to visit us at our Huntington Beach, California office. Call 657-206-8630 or click on the scheduling form on this site.

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