Traveler's Thrombosis: When Sitting Still Can Be Deadly
What Is DVT?
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
(also known as venous thromboembolism) occurs when a blood clot develops in the deep veins of the legs and groin (the lower-abdomen/upper thigh areas). These deep veins are not visible at the skin's surface, and are not related to
. A clot that breaks loose and travels through the deep veins to the heart and lungs can cause severe blockage of blood flow or death.
Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment
People who develop DVT don't always have symptoms. However, those who do usually experience the following symptoms in one leg or the other (rarely both):
Symptoms of DVT may include:
- Swelling of a limb
- Tenderness along the vein
- Redness, paleness, or blueness of the skin of the affected limb
Sudden, severe shortness of breath, with or without chest pain, may signal that a clot has traveled to the lungs.
DVT can be diagnosed by
ultrasound imaging tests
, which highlight blood flow in the veins and show clot formation. If a clot is found, blood-thinning medication to stabilize the clot and allow it to dissolve will be prescribed immediately. Hospitalization may be required for treatment and observation, and patients often take oral medication for several months afterwards, to ensure restoration of normal blood flow through the vein.
Risk factors for DVT include:
- Personal or family history of deep vein thrombosis
- Not moving your body for long periods of time
- Surgery, especially involving bones or joints
Medical conditions, such as:
birth control pills
- Genetic factors whether inherited or by natural changes in life can change your body protein levels
Preventing DVT While Traveling
If you are planning any kind of travel that requires sitting for long stretches of time, be sure to do the following:
- Get up and walk around as much as possible—at least once an hour, if possible. Stand up and stretch your arms and legs in your seat if there is no room to walk.
- Do in-seat calf exercises and heel/toe lifts frequently to keep the blood circulating.
- Arrange optimal seating: try to sit in an area that affords you some space, such as an aisle, exit row, or bulkhead seat.
- Stay hydrated, drink plenty of fluids, but avoid drinks that contain alcohol.
- Avoid smoking; this is especially important if you are taking oral contraceptives.
- Wear loose clothing and avoid tight clothing that restricts blood flow (eg, tight waistbands).
If you are at high risk for developing DVT, your doctor may ask you to wear below the knee compression stockings.
One cautionary note: DVT may surface
travel has been completed. If you experience any of the symptoms listed above, contact your doctor immediately.
National Institutes of Health
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
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Kahn SR, Lim W, Dunn AS, et al. Prevention of VTE in nonsurgical patients: Antithrombotic therapy and prevention of thrombosis, 9th ed: American College of Chest Physicians evidence-based clinical practice guidelines. Chest. 2012 Feb; 141(2 Suppl):e195S-226S.