Airplane-induced blood clots are more common than you think: Know the signs and how you can prevent them
08/23/2018 // Frances Bloomfield // Views

While air travel has made many an advancement in the past decades, it’s still not completely safe. One major risk long-distance flyers take when airborne is blood clots, specifically, a type of blood clot known as deep vein thrombosis or DVT.

These blood clots form in veins deep within the body, usually in the legs. Deep vein thrombosis usually occurs in people on flights that are four hours or longer. On its own, deep vein thrombosis can cause a great amount of pain, but some cases can be aggravated by pulmonary embolisms or PE. This is a sudden blockage of a lung artery, which can result from a piece of the blood clot in the legs breaking off and moving to the lungs. The collective term for these two conditions is venous thromboembolism, as per

What are the signs and symptoms?

The longer the flight, the higher the risk of deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolisms. If you happen to be traveling by air for several hours, watch out for the signs pointing to a blood clot in your leg:

  • A patch of skin that appears discolored or bruised
  • Cramping, leg pain, or tenderness
  • Skin that feels warm to the touch
  • Swelling in the lower leg, calf, or ankle

In the event that there’s a pulmonary embolism, the following symptoms will typically manifest:

  • Dizziness
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Stabbing pain while breathing
  • Sweating
  • Swelling in the legs
  • Unexplained coughing with bloody mucus

Am I at risk?

According to, there are numerous risk factors that can make you more susceptible to airplane-induced blood clots. These include but aren’t limited to:


  • Being 40 years old and above
  • Being obese
  • Being pregnant
  • Being a smoker
  • Having a personal or family history of blood clots
  • Having a personal or family history of genetic clotting disorders
  • Having cancer or a history of the disease
  • Having had surgery in the last three months
  • Having vein damage
  • Using contraceptives such as birth control pills

If any of these apply to you, consult a medical professional before taking to the air. (Related: 21-year-old woman suffers fatal blood clot one month after starting on birth control pills.)

How can I prevent airplane-induced blood clots?

Fortunately, preventing blood clots during air travel is fairly easy. Blood clots form when blood flow slows down or stops, which can happen when you remain immobile for a long time. Moving around during the flight will significantly decrease your risk of blood clots.

Make it a point to walk up and down the aisle for several minutes every hour or so, or whenever you can. Be sure to inform your flight attendant beforehand, however. If you can’t get up to move, you can make do in your seat by changing positions intermittently or by performing some simple exercises. Alternating between spreading and curling your toes, and sliding your feet across the floor are good ways to improve blood flow mid-flight. You also need to avoid crossing your legs too often since this can restrict blood circulation.

Staying hydrated will lessen your chances of developing a blood clot, as will wearing loose clothing on the flight. If you want, you can invest in a pair of compression stockings to wear on the plane. Not only will these encourage circulation, but they will stop blood from pooling in the veins of your calves as well.

Discover other ways to stay healthy and safe during travel by visiting today.

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