Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) occurs when blood clots form deep within the body, usually in the calves. DVT affects travelers on flights and bus, train, or car trips in which they are immobile for over three hours at a time. Up to 10 percent of travelers on an international flight will develop DVT.

Most healthy travelers break the clots down naturally, never knowing they had DVT. In other cases, a clot dislodges and flows to the lungs, causing a potentially fatal condition called pulmonary embolism.

Risk factors for developing DVT and pulmonary embolism include being:

  • within four weeks pre- or post-surgery
  • over 40 years old (risk rises 10 percent every decade over 40)
  • very tall
  • obese (Body Mass Index over 30)
  • pregnant or recently giving birth
  • prescribed estrogen-based birth control or hormone replacement therapy
  • diagnosed with cancer or undergoing chemotherapy
  • predisposed to blot clotting disorders through heredity.

Prevention is the best treatment, so travelers with one or more risk factors should consult their doctors before traveling.

How serious: 10 percent of all travelers on international flights develop DVT, but few ever experience symptoms. Yet, travelers with one or more risk factors should take extra precautions as they are more prone to painful symptoms and pulmonary embolism.

How to get it: staying immobilized, especially in cramped spaces, for over three hours at a time.

Symptoms: swelling, redness, and pain in calves. Pulmonary embolism symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pain and coughing up blood.

How to avoid it: wear compression stockings (sold only at medical supply stores – tight knee socks are not a substitute and can exacerbate DVT), walk every hour, frequently wiggle toes and rotate ankles, stay hydrated and avoid caffeine. In high-risk situations, anti coagulants may also be prescribed before the trip.

How to treat it: preventative measures are most effective so travelers at risk should seek medical advice before traveling. Pulmonary embolism complications don’t always cause death; however, in fatal cases, death usually occurs within 30 to 60 minutes of the first signs. Seeking immediate medical attention for pulmonary embolism symptoms is vital.

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