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Do You Know about Blood Clots and Travel?

Mar 23, 2014, midnight

People love to travel. For example, more than 300 million people travel on long-distance airline flights (generally more than four hours) each year.* But did you know that blood clots, also called deep vein thrombosis (DVT), can be a serious risk for some long-distance travelers. Most information about blood clots and long-distance travel comes from information that has been gathered about air travel. However, anyone traveling more than four hours, whether by air, car, bus, or train, can be at risk for blood clots.

Blood clots can form in the deep veins (veins below the surface that are not visible through the skin) of your legs during travel because you are sitting still in a confined space for long periods of time. The longer you don't move around, the greater is your risk of developing a blood clot. A serious health problem can occur when a part of the blood clot breaks off and travels to the lungs causing a blockage. This is called a pulmonary embolism, or PE, and it may result in death. The good news is there are things you can do to protect your health and reduce your risk for blood clots during a long-distance trip.

Are You at Risk?

Even if you travel a long distance, the risk of developing a blood clot is very small. Your level of risk depends on the length of travel as well as whether you have any other risks for blood clots. Most people who get blood clots during travel have one or more other risks for blood clots, such as:

-Older age (risk increases after age 40)

-Obesity (body mass index [BMI] greater than 30 kg/m2)

-Recent surgery or injury (within 3 months)

-Use of estrogen-containing contraceptives (for example, birth control pills, rings, patches)

-Hormone replacement therapy (medical treatment in which hormones are given to reduce the effects of menopause)

-Pregnancy and the period after birth (up to 6 weeks after childbirth)

-Previous blood clot or a family history of blood clots

-Active cancer or recent cancer treatment

-Limited movement (for example, a leg cast)

-Catheter placed in a large vein

-Varicose veins

The combination of long-distance travel with one or more of these risks may increase your chance of getting a blood clot. The more risks you have, the greater your chances of getting a blood clot. If you plan on traveling soon, talk with your doctor to learn more about what you can do to protect your health. The most important thing you can do is to learn and recognize the signs and symptoms of blood clots.

Know the Signs and Symptoms

Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) (blood clot in the leg, arm, or other deep vein)

About half of people with DVT have no symptoms at all. The following are the most common symptoms of DVT that occur in the affected part of the body (usually the leg or arm):

-Swelling of your leg or arm

-Pain or tenderness that you can't explain

-Skin that is warm to the touch

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