Long-distance travel raises risk of forming blood clots

My mom is coming to visit for the holidays from the East Coast. She’s older, 81, a bit overweight, but in basically good health. Should she be OK to fly or are there some dangers we should be aware of?

That’s a question for your mom’s doctor. If she’s seen a physician recently, he or she would be the best judge of your mom’s health conditions and any flying risks. However, I read just today an article in the November/December issue of FDA Consumer that pointed out a risk I’d not known about. It’s called deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and is a blood clot that forms in a vein deep within the muscles, usually the calf or thigh. Sitting motionless for long periods of time — such as traveling by plane or car — can cause this condition, especially in older or obese people. If the clot breaks up and enters the lungs it can cause a deadly pulmonary embolism. The risk for this doubles every 10 years after age 60.

The article suggests these precautions:

  • Move around as much as possible. At the airport between flights, walk to keep the blood flowing in your legs. When you walk, the muscles of the legs squeeze the veins and move blood to the heart.
  • Wear compression stockings which put gentle pressure on the leg muscles. These stockings are available at medical supply stores.
  • Avoid regular socks with very tight elastic bands at the top or sitting with your legs crossed for long periods of time, either of which will constrict the veins.
  • While you sit in the airplane, periodically move and stretch your legs.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration, which causes blood vessels to narrow and blood to thicken, increasing the risk for DVT. Also reduce your alcohol and coffee consumption, which both contribute to dehydration.
  • If you travel by car, stop every couple of hours, get out and walk around a bit.

The advice would be good for your mom when she travels — and for you as well.