How to Fly Safely After a Pulmonary Embolism or Blood Clot

Updated on April 19, 2017
Lwelch profile image

Lena Welch was diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism and factor V Leiden in 2008. She has participated in support groups for each condition.

The little boy in this picture has the right idea!  He has his legs extended and elevated for the flight.  Mom is at an increased risk of clots as it looks like she recently had a baby.
The little boy in this picture has the right idea! He has his legs extended and elevated for the flight. Mom is at an increased risk of clots as it looks like she recently had a baby. | Source

Blood clots can be life-threatening when flying. When we fly, the blood that pools in our legs has a tendency to form clots, which can grow large enough to obstruct a vein and cause a painful and dangerous DVT (deep vein thrombosis). If the clots are able to move into the lungs, they can cause a life-threatening pulmonary embolism. Pulmonary embolisms block the flow of blood and oxygen throughout the lungs. People who have thrombophilia or another blood clotting condition, or who have a history of blood clots, are especially at risk of experiencing a dangerous blood clot while in the air.

Despite these risks, flying can be a safe experience. There are a number of steps that travellers can take to ensure health and safety. Before reading on, please note that I am not a doctor, but I was diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism and a condition called Factor V Leiden. I have participated in informational support groups for each condition. For your safety, please share this information with your doctor and discuss it.

Source

Everyone is at risk of developing a clot while flying, though some people have a higher risk than others. The chart above can help you assess your risk. Note one thing that is not mentioned: Being an elite athlete raises your risk of a clot while flying. Studies show that around 85% of after flight blood clot victims are athletes.

Keep in mind, that everyone is at an increased risk for a blood clot while flying.

Blood Clot Symptoms

Even with precautionary measures, you can have a pulmonary embolism or a DVT (deep vein thrombosis) after airplane travel. If you have any symptoms of either of these conditions (listed below), go to the emergency room. Pulmonary embolisms often are fatal. Prompt administration of blood thinners and bed rest can prevent long term vein, heart, or lung damage as well as a fatal blood clot. The emergency room is the safest place for you if you notice any symptoms of a blood clot, DVT, or pulmonary embolism. You do not have to have all of the symptoms to have a clot.

Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)

A DVT is a blood clot that forms in a vein. The most common site for these clots is in the large veins of the legs, particularly behind the knee. Some of the symptoms of a DVT are:

  • Swelling, usually in one leg.
  • Leg pain or tenderness.
  • Reddish or bluish skin discoloration.
  • Leg warm to touch.

White these symptoms are typically in a leg, they can also occur in the arms or other body parts. A DVT can feel like a pulled muscle, muscle cramp, or "Charlie horse." The extremity often has a bruised or discolored appearance and swelling.

Pulmonary Embolism Symptoms:

  • Sudden shortness of breath.
  • Chest pain-sharp, stabbing that may get worse with deep breath.
  • Rapid heart rate.
  • Unexplained cough, sometimes with bloody mucus.
  • Night sweats.

How Clots Form

Why Flying Increases the Risk of Clots

When we fly, we tend to sit in the same position, with knees bent, for hours on end. Muscle movement pushes our blood back to the heart, so when we sit, the blood may pool. The longer blood sits still, the greater the chance of a clot. Bent knees or crossed legs make it even more difficult for blood to circulate. When one is stationary for 1-2 hours, the risk of a DVT or pulmonary embolism increases. On airplanes, many passengers are seated in the same position for at least 2-8 hours. International travelers are seated for an even longer period of time.

Planes also carry other risks. The lower air pressure and lower humidity on planes appear to increase the coagulability of the blood and increase the risk of pulmonary embolism or DVT.

Tips to Prevent Blood Clots

The length of a flight directly effects the risk of developing a clot. When a flight time extends to four hours or more, the risk of developing a DVT or pulmonary embolism increases dramatically.

  • Break your flights into shorter segments if possible. Look for flights with a layover or an airplane change, so that your flight is broken into shorter segments. To prepare for long international flights, speak with to your doctor about using Lovenox or another anticoagulant.
  • While flying, keep your blood moving. Try to get up and walk the plane at least once every 1-2 hours. While you are seated, do not cross your legs. Keep your legs as straight as possible to make it easier for your blood to circulate. Do leg and foot exercises as these will help to move blood and prevent clots.
  • You can wear graduated compression hose or "travel sox" for your flight. These special socks will help to prevent blood from pooling in your legs. Make sure that they do not bind. To be sure of the fit, have a professional help you to choose the correct size based on your measurements. Your other clothing should be loose-fitting clothing so as not to constrict while you are seated.
  • Stay hydrated. Drink around 8 ounces of liquid every hour. Make sure that this liquid is a hydration beverage with electrolytes. Pedialyte, Gatorade, or Powerade are all good choices. If you have a history of clots you can make arrangements with the airline to take "medical" liquids through security. I find it much easier to buy powdered Gatorade, measure out enough for a 32-ounce drink, and put it in a sandwich bag. Once through security, I purchase 32 ounces of water and pour in my mix. This gives me enough liquid for four hours of flight time. I will still drink additional drinks at layovers and sometimes on the plane. I find that if I use Gatorade, I can drink 8 ounces an hour with little need to use the restroom. If I drink water, I will have increased urination. This shows that my body holds onto the liquid in Gatorade but not water. note that water actually seems to increase the risk of clots.

In-Flight Exercises

  1. Heal Raises: Sit with your feet flat on the floor in front of your. Lift up your heal and hold it for 5-10 seconds. Lower it to the floor. Repeat 10 times.
  2. Toe Raises: Sit with your feet flat on the floor in front of you. Lift up your toes and hold for 5-10 seconds. Lower to the floor. Repeat 10 times.
  3. Toe Circles: Straighten your legs as much as possible and lift them slightly off of the floor. Make small circles with your toes.
  4. The Alphabet: Straighten your legs as much as possible and lift your feet off of the floor. Trace the alphabet with your right toes and then repeat with your left.
  5. Slides: Slide your feet as far forward as possible and then bend your knees slide them back as far as possible. Repeat 10 times.
  6. Knee Lifts: Lift up your right knee towards your chest, about 3 inches off of your seat. Lower it. Lift up your left knee and do the same thing. Alternate legs until each leg has lifted 10 times.

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • profile image

      Mark 

      12 months ago

      Thank you for this information. Labor Day this year , 2017 I ended up in the er and was diagnosed with several blot clots in my lungs. I am 52 in pretty good health and was shocked to find out that I had this. I too am diagnosed with factor V Leiden. I am on elequis a new blood thinner. It seems to be working according to my Dr. I am very fatigued and feeling afraid this will happen again. My Dr. Told me to start walking a little each day but I can't seem to do too much without feeling like my legs are like lead. I am relieved to read about so many others experiences, it makes me feel better.

    • profile image

      Barbara 

      13 months ago

      I took a 2.5 hour plane trip for a vacation. After I returned, I was having severe pain in the bottom of my foot for weeks. I saw my primary care doctor and a podiatrist. The podiatrist recommended a CT scan...there was a blood clot in my calf. I was 65 years old, heterozygous Factor V Leiden and never had a clot before. I was put on Xarelto for 4 months and the clot resolved without any residual effects.

    • profile image

      Elizabeth 

      17 months ago

      h

      Thank you for most useful info. Hard to get from doctors

    • profile image

      Steve G 

      2 years ago

      I had a massive PE about 4 years ago following a hip replacement. A couple of tips for you when flying. Wear compression stockings...and never ever fly economy. It will cost you more to fly business class but if you are worried about clots its the only way to go. This way you can keep legs elevated...move around the cabin without inconveniencing other pax. Believe me it well worth the cost. If you happen to already had a PE...please discuss you travel with your treating MD. If you tell the airline about your circumstances, they may well ask you for flight clearance from your MD that you are OK to fly. Steve G ex Qantas staff

    • profile image

      sharon 

      2 years ago

      just been diajosed with 3 clots on lung been put on warfarin injections am due to fly to morocco in sept will this be ok

    • profile image

      sheliabcakes 

      4 years ago

      I have had two PE and I am 35yrs old. With on going exhaustion and shortness of breath for the last 3 1/2 years. I how can I find support?

    • profile image

      Sara 

      4 years ago

      Well done! My mom suffered a PE over a year ago & we worried about her flying. You have answered all of our questions but will advise from dr. about travel for her.

    • Lwelch profile imageAUTHOR

      Lena Welch 

      6 years ago from USA

      Thank you for being my first comment!

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 

      6 years ago from the short journey

      Thanks for an interesting read on an important topic, as well as for the information in preventing and recognizing clotting conditions like pulmonary embolism. Voted up.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, healdove.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://healdove.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)