Practice self-care on lengthy trips to avoid blood clots

The winter holidays are frequently a time for visits to faraway destinations. Whether you are traveling for business or pleasure though, it is important not to lose focus on your health.

Long trips by car, train or plane can mean a lengthy period seated in the same position. For most people, this won’t present a problem, but some people may be at risk for blood clots forming in their legs as a result of prolonged inactivity. “The blood clot, or deep vein thrombosis (DVT) may remain in the leg or travel to the lung,” says Craig Cheifetz, MD, board-certified internist and vice president, Corporate Health and Premium Services for Inova. “Left unevaluated and untreated, this can lead to short- and long- term complications for the individual.”

People with these criteria may face a higher risk:

  • Above age 40
  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy and postpartum period (up to three months)
  • Previous blood clot or family history of blood clots
  • Recent surgery or injury (within three months)
  • Use of hormone replacement therapy or estrogen-containing birth-control methods (pill, rings or patches)
  • Varicose veins

People with one or more of these risk factors should be on the lookout for symptoms of DVT, which usually develops in an arm or leg, including pain, swelling, unexplained redness, tenderness or skin that is warm to the touch. If these symptoms appear, speak to a doctor as soon as possible.

It is also possible to have a pulmonary embolism without experiencing any symptoms of DVT. A pulmonary embolism can cause one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Anxiety
  • Fast or irregular heartbeat
  • Discomfort or pain in the chest that feels worse with deep breaths or coughing
  • Coughing up blood
  • Lightheadedness or fainting

These symptoms represent a medical emergency; seek help immediately.

If you are concerned about your risk for DVT, speak to your healthcare provider before the trip. For those who are deemed higher risk, it may be recommended that you wear graduated compression stockings for the time that you will be seated. Dr. Cheifetz says that there are other ways to help stave off clots. “You can help yourself by getting out of your seat periodically—every one to two hours for trips longer than four hours—and walking, bending and stretching your legs, especially your calves and quadriceps, as much as possible.”

Learn more about DVT and the Inova Heart & Vascular Institute.

RELATED: What Is Deep Vein Thrombosis and What Should I Know About It?

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