Preventing DVT when Traveling

The Oklahoma Heart Research and Education Foundation recently held their bi-annual symposium in Tulsa, OK. Health care providers from across the region listened to presentations from several Oklahoma Heart Institute cardiologist on a variety of topics. One particular moment received spontaneous laughter from the audience, as Dr. Eugene Ichinose pulled a chair onto the stage, upon which he preceded to stand and model his compression socks underneath his suit. The demonstration was both a comical break and illustration of the point of his presentation – preventing deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

DVT is a blood clot that can form deep in a vein in the leg. You cannot see these deep veins right under the skin, as they are blood vessels, which go through the calf and thigh muscles. Symptoms of DVT can develop gradually over time and can be quite serious. A part of the blood clot can break off from the clot in the leg and travel up to the lungs, also known as a pulmonary embolus. While this is a rare event, it can be fatal. Most patients with DVT will experience long-term swelling and discomfort in the calves and legs.

If you plan on traveling over a long period of time, it is important to be mindful of ways to prevent DVT, especially for those who are high-risk.

High-risk for DVT:

People who are high-risk for DVT may have one or more of the following:

  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy
  • Recent surgery
  • Family member diagnosed with DVT
  • Previous DVT or Pulmonary Embolism
  • Recently suffered from pneumonia, heart attack or heart failure
  • Cancer
  • Being very tall or very short

Precautions when Traveling

If you will be sitting for a long period of time while traveling, there are preventative measures you can take to reduce your risk of developing DVT.

Calf exercises – Every 30 minutes flex and release your calf and feet muscles. This helps promote circulation in those deep blood vessels.

Take breaks – Once an hour, take a break from sitting. Get up and walk around.

Stay hydrated – Drink water throughout the day to make sure your body is not dehydrated, which can cause the blood to thicken.

Avoid alcohol and sleep aids – Do not drink alcohol or take sleeping pills while traveling, as they further reduce mobility and circulation in your legs.

Wear compression socks – As Dr. Ichinose demonstrated, compression socks are a great aid for preventing DVT as they promote better blood circulation in your lower body.

If you develop swollen calves or difficulty breathing immediately following travel, contact your health care provider immediately.