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How to prevent blood clots during travel

June 6, 2014

As people start planning summer vacations and finalizing travel plans, it's important to be aware of health risks associated with commuting long distances. Before embarking on a trip, check out these senior health tips to prevent blood clots and ensure safe travel.

What are blood clots and how do they form?
Blood clot is the more common name for deep vein thrombosis, clots which form in veins that aren't visible through the skin. They commonly occur in legs as a result of poor circulation and immobility. According to HealthDay News, roughly 1 million Americans have blood clots each year. The clots are dangerous, because they can travel to vital organs and cause bigger problems. However, many clots will dissolve on their own over time.

Blood clots can form when someone doesn't move for more than four hours, such as traveling in a car, train, bus or plane. However, flying poses the most risk because of the air pressure in the cabin, limited leg room and potential for dehydration, according to an interview with Omid Jazaeri, director of vascular surgery at University of Colorado Hospital, published by AARP.

Senior citizens are most susceptible to blood clots, as are people with a family history of the issue. Other risk factors include obesity, varicose veins, recent surgery or cancer treatment, active cancer and limited mobility. The four main symptoms of blood clots are swelling, redness, warmth and pain.

How can blood clots be avoided?
To protect yourself against blood clots, try to stand up and walk around periodically during long flights or trips. If you aren't able to get out of your seat for some reason, there are some leg stretches and exercises that can help. For example, you can stretch your legs out and flex your ankles, pulling your toes up toward yourself. Put your feet flat on the floor, push your toes down and raise your heels five times. Then switch, pressing your heels into the ground and raising your toes up. You can also try rolling your ankles in a circular motion and sliding your feet back and forward several times. One more exercise to do is pulling your knees up to your chest, one at a time, for multiple sets.

Additionally, compression stockings can make long-distance travel safer for seniors, though be sure not to use regular support hose. You can also avoid blood clots by wearing loose clothes, eating light meals, sleeping for less than four hours at a time, staying hydrated and limiting alcohol consumption.