Risk of Blood Clots Depends on Length, Not Mode of Travel

Understanding risk factors and taking preventive measures can help avoid serious conditions

MIDDLETOWN, Ohio (May 10, 2017) – More than 300 million people travel on long-distance flights each year placing them at risk for developing blood clots, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  (CDC).

Blood clots, also known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT), is a real and dangerous risk for travelers trapped in an airplane with limited space to move. However, a local cardiologist said the risk for blood clots shouldn’t just be limited to air travel.

“This condition is often referred to as ‘economy class syndrome’ because of its association with air travel, but reality is that it can happen when someone is traveling more than four hours in a plane, car, train or bus,” said Sandeep Gupta, MD, FACC, a cardiologist with Middletown Cardiology Associates. “Blood clots can happen to a person who has the right combination of risk factors regardless of their mode of transportation.”

The body’s blood has a built-in mechanism to both create and resolve clots, but certain factors and conditions can affect that rhythm and cause a person’s blood to become stagnant, said Dr. Gupta, who practices with Premier Physician Network.

“A blood clot can form if any condition causes the blood to stagnate,” he said. “People who develop blood clots are first and foremost predisposed to developing them. There are many different factors that can place a person at a higher risk, some of which are unknown such as genetic reasons such as missing enzymes.”

There are plenty of factors that are known and can help a person understand if they need to take special precautions to prevent blood clots when traveling. Adults over the age of 65, those with an inherited blood clotting disorder, obesity, individuals who are unable to move around and pregnancy place a person at high risk. Also, high on the list are those who take hormone replacement therapy and birth control medication.

Anyone with these risk factors should talk with their health care provider before traveling to discuss what steps would be good for them to take to avoid a blood clot. In some cases, individuals may need to take blood-thinner medication before traveling, according to the National Blood Clot Alliance (NBCA).

The alliance created a “Passport to Safety” to help individuals enjoy travel without the worry of developing blood clots. Several simple steps can help a person reduce their risk:

  • Know the right moves – The best defense against clot formation is to keep the legs moving. Make it a regular routine throughout the hours of travel to stretch your legs in two different ways. One, raise your heels with your toes on the floor. Two, raise your toes with your heels on the floor. Also, make an effort to stand up and walk around the airplane. Consider setting an alarm to alert you to do it every 30 minutes.
  • Consider compression – Compression hose or socks are readily available thanks to newer products on the market for athletes. Wearing compression socks can play a big role in keeping the blood flowing throughout the legs and will cut down on swelling that many travelers experience.
  • Consume water – Say no to coffee and alcohol, which can play a big role in dehydration. Instead, choose to drink plenty of water throughout your travel.
  • Hit the brakes – Those who are traveling long-distance in a car should make regular stops to get out and stretch their legs. It’s tempting to forge ahead when you’re eager to reach your destination, but it’s better to be safe and healthy in the end.
  • Be watchful – Avoid taking sleeping pills that will allow you to sleep for hours at a time. Long naps may make long travel go faster, but it cuts down on the time your body is up and moving.

For more information on blood clots and travel or to find a Premier Physician Network physician near you, visit our cardiology page.


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