Are You at Risk for Travel-Related Blood Clots?


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.