Vacation season: Airplane rides and DVT
May 9th, 2011
05:00 AM ET

Vacation season: Airplane rides and DVT

As the school year winds down and the weather improves in most parts of the country, families may be planning their vacations and doctors want travelers to remember that long trips can raise the risk of getting dangerous blood clots.

Sitting for a long time in a car or on a plane can slow down blood flow, which can lead to a very serious condition called deep vein thrombosis or DVT – caused by blood clots that form in a person's lower leg or thigh and break off.

"DVT is very dangerous and can do severe damage to a person's body and if the clot breaks off and travels to the lung, it can be fatal," says Dr. Sandra Schneider, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians in a press release. A clot in the lung creates a condition known as a pulmonary embolism.

According the National Institutes of Health, there are many things that can increase the risk of blood clots forming deep in a vein, including having had them before, being pregnant, being overweight or obese or simply being olderthan age 60.

If you fall into one or more of these catagories your risk of DVT goes up even more. So emergency physicians are trying to raise awareness about this disorder, in the hope of letting people know what they can do to prevent blood clots and recognize the symptoms early. "Put it this way – think of DVT as a ticking time bomb in your body and at any moment, it could go off unless it is diagnosed and properly treated,” says Schneider.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up to 600,000 Americans have DVT and pulmonary embolisms annually; up to 100,000 die each year as a result and those who survive can often have damage to the lung or other organs. The CDC has information and advice on DVT online.

So travelers are encouraged to get up from their seat and walk around and stretch their legs often. If you have a family history of DVT or are considered high-risk for other reasons, your doctor may prescribe a blood thinner for you while you travel.

soundoff (34 Responses)
  1. cinders23

    Duh.. how about a list of the symptoms?!?

    May 9, 2011 at 18:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Julie Labrouste

    I have Factor V Leiden, which is a genetic blood disorder that 5% of all North Americans have; this disorder causes the blood to be especially thick and prone to blood clots. Now, one would think that since this could cause INSTANT DEATH in the form of stroke, embolisms, the AMA and Surgeon General would INSIST that EVERYBODY be tested for this early in life so that we don't...DIE FROM IT! Guess how I found-out that I have Factor V Leiden? I had a Deep Vein Thrombosis one day; I could've dropped DEAD if the clot in my leg traveled to my heart lungs or brain, but I was LUCKY. THAT is how I found out. They said, "Hey, we ran a test and guess what? You have Factor V Leiden, which explains your DVT." I'm like, "Why don't you brainiacs test for that early in life so that people are less likely to DIE FROM IT? No answer. I was placed on blood thinners seeing as how I happen to be lucky enough not to have DIED FROM IT! O.O

    May 9, 2011 at 18:49 | Report abuse | Reply
    • CrystalB

      It's genetic...does anyone else in your family have this disorder? If so, did you propose to your physician that you should be tested? Physicians only know what we tell them and lots of people take it for granted that they are their own best advocate (I'm not saying it's your fault this happened to you, just that I know people who do not practice full disclosure with their doctors and then feel they have been given subpar care when something happens that could have been prevented). And unfortunately there are a lot of known health disorders and most people are at risk for at least one; the resources required to test everyone for every condition they could possibly have makes it highly impractical.

      May 9, 2011 at 19:57 | Report abuse |
    • UDoc

      Julie, there's a reason Factor V Leiden is not screened for. In fact, there's not even a reason to look for the mutation if you have a single blood clot. Certain criteria have to be met for a screening test to make sense; Factor V Leiden doesn't come close to meeting these. So, yes, the "brainiacs" have a reason to not look for it – even if you weren't provided a satisfactory answer. And, FYI, blood clots from your legs do not cause strokes.* They embolize to the right heart and pulmonary vessels.

      *very, very rare

      May 9, 2011 at 21:14 | Report abuse |
    • Julie Labrouste

      @UDoc: I find it inhumane for doctors to say, "Well we feel that we have some reason why we should or shouldn't do whatever," even if that is RISKING PEOPLES LIVES. No UDoc, that isn't good enough. It should be tested for; it is GALACTICALLY stupid to wait until some has a blood clot related event, to include DEATH, before testing. Your aregument is PRECISELY what I am AGAINST. People should be TESTED for things that could KILL them, especially when we're talking 5% of a population. (F****** arrogant health-"care industry")

      May 10, 2011 at 09:48 | Report abuse |
    • Julie Labrouste

      @CrystalB: My anger and concern is on a humanity level, not about me. Here is this disorder that so many people have, which could literally kill them instantly, that they could test for once so that their family doctor would know that they have it and can therefore treat them (blood thinners and PT/INR tests) to help prevent sudden death but rather than doing that, to protect people's lives, they just...WAIT...until someone has a clot related event and...THEN...test them O.O That is STUPID. THEN there are people like UDoc who defend them; there is NO DEFENSE for this; people should all be tested; it is one test and either you have it or you don't; it should be just like getting any other test or vaccine as a child. And I am FED-UP with the health-"care industry" being SO ARROGANT; they just don't seem to be about people's health anymore.

      May 10, 2011 at 10:26 | Report abuse |
    • UDoc

      Julie, I'm sorry that you don't get it. Instead of anger and a strong uninformed opinion, why not educate yourself? True arrogance is claiming to have a level of understanding of a topic without the requisite knowledge.

      May 10, 2011 at 14:06 | Report abuse |
    • gale

      I guess since you have it you feel that way but what about many other diseases that may be able to be screened for? If they did all of them you would be bloodless by the time they finished, not to mention the cost to do that to everyone.

      September 23, 2011 at 10:03 | Report abuse |
    • iminim

      I am a doctor who has first degree relatives wtih factor V leiden. I have not been tested & do not plan to be unless I experience a clotting event. Why have I not been tested? First, would I be willing to take anticoagulant therapy prophylactically if I was positive? No. There are risks to such therapy that I do not want to take if I have not actually had a clot. Second, if I found out I had factor V leiden, it would be more difficult to get an individual health insurance policy. Instead, I just take the usual precautions for clot prevention like doing ankle & leg extension exercises when I travel, keep my legs propped up when I sit, avoid standing in one place for a long time, etc.

      The author's use of the "ticking bomb" analogy brings up lots of fear in folks. Do I feel like I might have a "ticking bomb" in me? No. Do I think my affected relatives have a "ticking bomb" in them? No. Do I think that getting the facts from sources that don't attract readers using a lot of hype & scary words is the best way to educate yourself? Absolutely!

      September 23, 2011 at 14:31 | Report abuse |
    • -DocJJ

      You are letting your emotions get the better of you. You wish to screen a population of 400 million people for a rare genetic disorder. First- who do you propose will pay for that? Assuming $60 a test, that's a cool 240 billion dollars. To screen for one disorder, which is rare.

      Second, what about false positives? False negatives?

      Third- are you prepared to treat people with Coumadin who have positive results? What if they've never had a clotting event? What about all of the bleeding episodes in people who are taking Coumadin? What about the costs of the PT-INR checks of these people? What if you put someone on Coumadin because of a positive Factor V Leiden mutation, even though they've never had a clotting event, and they go on to die of a fatal head bleed, or GI bleed?

      Think before you post here....

      September 23, 2011 at 17:32 | Report abuse |
    • jdoe

      iminim: You don't want to know if you have Factor V Leiden because you're afraid you can't get health insurance. That speaks volume about the sorry state of the American health care system. What about the myriad of other preexisting conditions that people undoubtedly have? Time for a health care system that doesn't denies care to people who may need it most.

      September 25, 2011 at 15:47 | Report abuse |
    • Hildert

      I think you need to listen to your body. My flhgit to Iraq seemed endless and I was experiencing serious jet-lag, so I decided to wait 24 hours to let my body rest. When you're regimented and your body is used to running at a certain time, sometimes a long flhgit can throw your body off. But as mentioned earlier, it depends on how your body feels. ~TRF

      September 14, 2012 at 01:29 | Report abuse |
  3. CrystalB

    Symptoms of DVT include warmth and redness at the affected area, swelling of the affected leg and possibly pain. In addition to long car or air trips (more specifically prolonged inactivity), risk factors include smoking, use of oral contraceptives or other hormone therapies and obesity as well as a family history of clotting disorders. Knowing these risk factors, if you think you may have developed a DVT, contact your physician.

    May 9, 2011 at 19:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Fiona

    You can get pressure hose (actually very long socks) - ask your doctor about them. I wore them on a 14- hour flight, and my legs felt great.

    May 9, 2011 at 23:44 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Carolina

      I think you need to listen to your body. My flhigt to Iraq seemed endless and I was experiencing serious jet-lag, so I decided to wait 24 hours to let my body rest. When you're regimented and your body is used to running at a certain time, sometimes a long flhigt can throw your body off. But as mentioned earlier, it depends on how your body feels. ~TRF

      September 11, 2012 at 18:06 | Report abuse |
    • Ravi

      I am from New Orleans and often fly to France for work. In 2008 and 2010 I flew to Paris the same day I ran Houston Marathon without any peblorm or concern. A month ago I did my long run 14 miles about 8 hours after landing in the morning in Paris coming from Houston which was an 11 hours flight in economy. Again no peblorm and felt pretty good during my run as the temperature was quite nice compared to the Louisiana heat. I always make sure I get an aisle seat to be able to move around.

      September 13, 2012 at 23:24 | Report abuse |
  5. nina786

    ...hmmm nice information....:)


    May 10, 2011 at 10:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Leo

    If you're concerned about the risk of a clot while traveling, let me give you some free medical advice:

    If you are NOT allergic to aspirin, and you have no contradictions against taking aspirin, then TAKE ASPIRIN. Start a couple of days before your flight. Take an aspirin once per day, and then make sure you take one the morning of your flight. If you have no allergies or contradictions against taking aspirin, then there's pretty much NO risk in taking it, and it would cut your risk of a clot immensely. It's cheap, it's over-the-counter, and there are no real side effects for taking aspirin for just a few days.

    Other advice... wear gentle compression stockings on the day of your flight. Wiggle your feet around often during your flight. If you're really concerned, then make sure you GET UP from your seat every so often. Walk to the bathroom or something when the captain turns the seatbelt sign off.

    Really, unless you have a severe clotting disorder, those simple precautions should take care of almost any risk of a clot.

    You're welcome.

    May 10, 2011 at 10:36 | Report abuse | Reply
    • mimi

      Thank you!

      September 24, 2011 at 08:08 | Report abuse |
    • Lennon

      I'm from Oregon but now live in Germany. I regularly go for nmaorl runs within 24 hours of flights (13-15 hours) back and forth to visit my family and have never had any problems. I often feel like going for a little run right after I land to shake out my legs, but I find by the time I get to my house/my parent's house, the jet-lag has kicked in too hard and I just sit around the rest of the day and then run early the next morning.

      September 11, 2012 at 17:52 | Report abuse |
  7. Valentijn

    I'm pretty sure I the link I clicked on said I'd be going to an article about Primatine Mist. Where is it? Why am I reading an article from May?!?


    September 23, 2011 at 04:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Anon


    September 23, 2011 at 07:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. confuseddd

    This is a link for Primatene Mist – how does that increase DVT?

    September 23, 2011 at 11:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Bill at work

    Confuseddd speaks for me as well. I don't fly and don't care but i do use Primatene mist. What happened to that story, CNN?

    September 23, 2011 at 19:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Ardath

    So how did I end up here when I clicked on a link about Primatene Mist? CNN, were ALL of the children on your staff left behind?

    September 23, 2011 at 21:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • mimi

      they pre-emptivally opted out:)

      September 24, 2011 at 08:13 | Report abuse |
  12. bob_s

    This exactly what happened to my father. After a long plane ride back from Alaska, a day or so later his leg swelled up. Stubborn as he was, he ignored our pleas for him to go to the hospital. "It'll either kill me or it won't," is what he said. Well guess what. The next morning he didn't wake up. Pulmonary embolism. He was an otherwise healthy 74. Stupid way to die.

    September 24, 2011 at 19:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Phil

    Perhaps persons with DVT issues could take low-dose aspirin (80mg) 'x' times per 'y' hours, etc?

    September 26, 2011 at 00:02 | Report abuse | Reply
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    July 29, 2012 at 21:48 | Report abuse | Reply
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