Prevent Blood Clots on Long Flights

August 15, 2013

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Experts will agree when they tell you that flying isn’t particularly dangerous. You’re much more likely, after all, to die in a car crash than have anything happen to you on a plane. While this fact should give you some peace of mind if you are scared of flying, what you may not realize is that there is a very real medical danger associated with long flights that you should do everything in your power to prevent. Blood clots are increasingly common among travelers who spend hours seated on airplanes, especially on transcontinental flights. Developing this condition, called Deep Vein Thrombosis (or DVT) can actually be quite life-threatening. There are, however, a few simple steps you can take while in-flight to protect yourself.  

1. Walk around – The single most important step you can take in preventing blood clots from developing on long flights is to not stay put for too long. By getting up and walking around, stretching your legs, and just reinvigorating your body, you are able to get your blood flowing again. The more work your circulatory system can do while you are on a long flight, the less likely your blood is to pool in your legs and cause clots. At the very least, you should get up at least once every two hours. It can be embarrassing constantly trying to squeeze past your neighbor, so try to sit on the aisle if you can.  

2. Plan your outfit wisely – While there was a time when flying was a formal affair and the men had to wear suits while the ladies wore their best dresses, this kind of social convention is a thing of the past. When you are going to be sitting still for long periods of time, the best thing you can wear is whatever will be the most comfortable. Loose clothing that doesn’t constrict your movement in any way is going to be safest. You also should try to never cross your legs while in flight, so sweatpants are probably a better option than a skirt.  

3. Stay hydrated – Drinking plenty of water is one of the most important steps you can take to prevent blood clots. When you get dehydrated, your blood volume decreases, which means it pumps through your veins less effectively. Avoid drinking too much caffeine or alcohol. In addition to both being contributors to dehydration, too much alcohol can cause you to fall into a deep sleep, and you should never sleep for so long on a flight that it prevents you from moving around at least once every two hours.  

4. Flex and point your toes – It may sound simple, but one of the easiest ways to keep your blood moving while sitting in such tight quarters is to do a very basic exercise at least once per half-hour. By flexing and pointing your toes (around 10 times per foot), you can increase blood flow where it matters most—your lower legs. Alternate this exercise with some ankle rolls, and not only will you help reduce your risk for blood clots, but you will also likely feel less stiff at the end of your flight.  

5. Wear compression stockings – If you know that you have a predisposition for developing blood clots (if you take birth control pills, are a smoker, are overweight, or recovering from surgery), it might behoove you to take your prevention techniques a step further. Compression stockings can be picked up at any local drugstore, and many people with circulatory disorders have to wear them constantly. These stockings feature tight elastic around your legs, which compresses your veins and improves your circulation. While they’re not always the most comfortable accessory, they could help save your life.   As always, check with your doctor if you have any questions or concerns regarding your risk factors in developing a blood clot.  The stakes are too high to ignore!

Dr. Thomas Lembo
Dr. Thomas Lembo


Hello! I'm the creator of "Samurai Insoles", and work to rid the world of foot pain everyday.