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Frequent Travelers: Know the Warning Signs of Deep Vein Thrombosis

January 07, 2015

Every day, millions of Americans travel by car, plane or train for work, vacation, or just to visit family and friends. For some of us, however, travel can come with certain risks, such as the development of a dangerous condition called deep vein thrombosis.

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT), which occurs when a blood clot forms in deep veins within the arms, legs and neck, is a serious condition that affects as many as 600,000 Americans every year. DVT leads to painful swelling in these areas of the body and can be dangerous—even deadly—if not treated immediately.

Traveling can increase your risk for DVT because sitting for long periods of time can restrict circulation and lead to the formation of blood clots. In addition to long travel, other risk factors include surgery, certain medications, age and medical history. However, there are several ways to minimize your risk for DVT.

As our schedules become more hectic during this busy time of year, it’s important to be mindful about certain health conditions. Here is some information about risk factors for DVT, how to spot potential symptoms and prevention tips that can help you stay healthy.

DVT Risk Factors and Symptoms

There are several genetic and lifestyle risk factors for DVT.

Some people have an inherited blood-clotting disorder that makes their blood clot more easily, which can increase their risk for DVT if they also have other risk factors, such as a prior vein injury, being a smoker or overweight or being over the age of 60. Birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy also can make it easier for blood to clot, increasing the risks for this condition, especially in women.

Obesity and pregnancy also are significant risk factors for DVT because they both increase pressure in pelvic and leg veins. Aside from these health-related risk factors, sitting or lying down for an extended period potentially can lead to DVT. Prolonged bed rest after surgery, long flights, car or train rides can minimize movement and blood circulation in legs, which can increase the risk of blood clots.

Though DVT can happen without any visible symptoms, you should pay attention to the appearance of and feeling in your legs, especially after a long period of sitting. Swelling or redness in the affected leg is an indicator of DVT (though other health conditions also can cause these occurrences). Visible surface veins, leg fatigue and cramping or soreness in your calf that migrates further up the leg also may indicate DVT. DVT can become very serious because a piece of the blood clot can separate and travel through the veins and into the arteries in your lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism. If you experience sudden coughing, sharp chest pain, shortness of breath or any of the aforementioned symptoms, contact your doctor immediately. He or she can determine if you have DVT and provide the appropriate treatment.

Ways to Lower Your Risk for DVT

DVT can develop into a more serious condition, but there are several ways to minimize your risk. Here are some of them:
  • Keep Moving: If you’re traveling on a long flight, car or train ride, move your legs and feet to keep blood flowing. There are simple stretches and exercises you can do to increase blood circulation, even if you are in a tight airplane cabin. Rotate your ankles, flex your feet or get up and walk the aisle or go to the bathroom (when the fasten seat belt light is off, of course). If you’re in a car, periodically stop every two to three hours at a rest area, get out of the car and walk around for a short time.

  • Stay Healthy: Exercise and managing your weight also can lower your risk for DVT. Eating a balanced diet can help you maintain a healthy weight and moderate exercise, such as walking, can increase blood flow and circulation. If you smoke, quitting also can minimize your DVT risk (not to mention your risk for other health issues).
  • Stay Hydrated: When traveling, drink plenty of fluids and avoid drinks that can lead  dehydration, such as alcohol and caffeine drinks. Dehydration can cause your veins to narrow and your blood to thicken, increasing your risk for developing a blood clot.
  • Wear Compression Stockings: If you have risk factors for DVT or if your legs typically swell when you travel for long periods, you should talk to your doctor about wearing compression stockings. Compression stockings extend from the foot to the knee and create pressure that help circulate blood to the heart and throughout other areas of the body, which can prevent clot formation.
  • Get Regular Check-Ups: If you have any risk factors for DVT, such as high blood pressure, you should visit your doctor regularly. He or she can check your blood pressure and recommend ways to lower it. If you are taking birth control pills, you also may want to discuss alternatives with your doctor that can lower your risk of blood clots. If you have an inherited blood-clotting disorder or a medical history that includes heart disease, lung disease or cancer that can increase your risk for DVT, you should visit your doctor before you travel.
Traveling can be great fun, but you should be especially aware of changes that could indicate other health issues. DVT is a serious condition, but can be appropriately treated if it is caught early. If you are concerned about your risk factors for DVT or experience swelling, redness or pain in your leg after traveling, visit your doctor right away.