Deep Vein Thrombosis and Travel: Common FAQs

One of the most overlooked travel illnesses is deep vein thrombosis, aka DVT. Roughly 1 in 1,000 people will experience DVT each year, and research has shown that anyone sitting in one place for longer than four hours, such as during a long flight, can be at risk.  The CDC is working to raise awareness, but it’s important to know the facts and how you can prevent it while traveling. Check out the information below to learn more.

woman with leg pain

What is DVT?

Deep vein thrombosis occurs when a blood clot forms in a deep vein, generally in your leg. Most commonly, this happens when someone sits for a long period of time without moving.

How does travel increase the likelihood of DVT?

Deep vein thrombosis commonly occurs during international flights, train rides, or extended car rides because you are often seated in one place for a long period of time, without much leg room. If you stay seated or fall asleep and don’t make an effort to move around, you are putting yourself at a higher risk.

Am I at risk for getting DVT?

There are several factors that put you at a higher risk for DVT. You may be at an increased risk if you are over the age of 40, recently had surgery, are pregnant or overweight, have cancer or were recently treated for cancer, take birth control, if you are on prolonged bed rest, or if you have a family history of blood clots.

How can travelers prevent DVT?

There are several measures you can take to prevent DVT. If you are traveling on an international flight, make sure to walk around when the seatbelt light is off. If space is limited, try taking a trip to the restroom to get the blood flowing.  If you have several connecting flights, walk around the airport as much as possible between flights. Taking a long road trip? Make frequent stops and ensure everyone gets out of the car to go for a short walk and stretch their legs. Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration and avoid an excessive amount of alcohol or coffee. Resist the temptation to cross your legs. If you are stuck in your seat for a long period of time, there are several leg exercises that you can do to increase circulation. Many of these are easy to do without drawing attention to yourself.

How would I know if I have DVT?

Keep in mind that you may not have any symptoms with DVT, but some people experience swelling in the leg, pain, soreness, warm skin or redness. If you experience these symptoms, you should seek medical care immediately. The sooner you can see a doctor, the less likely the clot will grow and lead to serious complications.

How is DVT treated?

There are several medications used to treat blood clots, and a physician may also run blood tests to ensure the medication is working properly. You may also be prescribed blood thinners after initial treatment.

Can any complications occur from DVT?

You can experience complications from deep vein thrombosis if it is not treated in time. The most life-threatening complication is a pulmonary embolism. If the clot separates and moves through the bloodstream to the lungs, it causes blockages. The symptoms of a pulmonary embolism include sudden shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, chest pain, dizziness, an increased heart rate and blood when coughing.

Now that you know a little more about DVT, it’s important to equip yourself with the resources you need in the event you experience symptoms while traveling. Seek medical care as soon as possible, and don’t forget that  On Call members have access to worldwide medical referrals,  medical evacuation, prescription assistance and even our nurse helpline 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Safe Travels!