If you are a frequent traveler, especially if you travel long distances, you are at an increased risk of developing blood clots in the legs (known as deep vein thrombosis).
The condition is sometimes referred to as “economy class syndrome.” This is because it’s most commonly seen in those who regularly take long plane flights, but it is not limited to air travel. Blood clots can develop due to movement limitations when traveling via plane, bus, car or train. Your risk increases the longer you are immobile.
Usually, people who are at risk of developing clots while traveling are also at risk of developing blood clots in general. These risk factors include:
- Old age
- Recent surgery or injury
- Use of oral contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy
- Varicose veins
- Lack of regular movement or limited mobility (due to a cast, for example)
- Previous blood clots, or any blood clotting disorder
Tips to Prevent Travel-Related Blood Clots
If you’re planning to take a long flight or spend many hours traveling in a car or train, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself and lower your risk of blood clots:
People tend to dehydrate at higher altitudes, which thickens the blood and makes it more likely to clot. Drinking more fluid will also force you to periodically get up and take bathroom breaks. Movement works the leg muscles and promotes blood circulation. Avoid alcohol, which can dehydrate you as well.
Get up and move
Periodically stretch the legs by getting up and walking, or by simply lifting the heels while keeping the toes on the floor. You can also try the following stretches:
- Extend your legs and flex your ankles so that your toes point towards you.
- Pull each knee up to your chest and hold it there for 10-15 seconds. Repeat up to 10 times.
Talk to your doctor about medication
You may be able to take aspirin for a few days before flying to slightly thin the blood before traveling, but it’s important to discuss this with your doctor first. If you are already taking blood thinners, make sure you are following your doctor’s recommendations.
Wear support garments
Wearing support hose or other compression garments compresses the veins in the legs, which improves circulation. Your doctor can help you find the right types of compression clothing for you.
Your doctor can offer further recommendations for avoiding harmful blood clots while traveling.
“Blood Clots And Travel- Advice and Information.” Schulman Vein and Laser Center. https://www.schulmanveincenter.com/2014/12/11/blood-clots-travel-advise-information/
“Blood Clots and Travel: What You Need to Know.” CDC.