Don't let a blood clot spoil your travel plans

Blood clots can develop in the legs during hours of sitting in a plane, train, or automobile, a condition called deep-vein thrombosis (DVT). These clots can be painful, and even deadly, reports the March 2015 Harvard Women's Health Watch.

If a blood clot grows in a leg vein, it can interfere with circulation in the leg, causing pain and swelling. Sometimes a small piece of the clot breaks off and travels to another part of the body — this tiny traveler is known as an embolus. A pulmonary embolus — a clot that lodges in the lungs — can block the flow of oxygen to the body, leading to fatigue, breathlessness, chest pain, and even death. Approximately 300,000 people die from pulmonary embolism in the United States every year.

"It usually takes more than a single factor for DVT to develop," says Dr. Julianne Stoughton, a vascular surgeon at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital. Age is one factor; the chance of developing a blood clot begins to increase after age 40 and continues to rise throughout life. Inactivity imposed by travel is another. Taking a medication that promotes blood clotting, as well as conditions like factor V Leiden mutation, cancer, and heart disease, also increase the risk.

Several preventive measures can reduce the risk of developing a blood clot when you're on the road or in the air:

Wear compression stockings. These aren't the thick, rubbery, beige hose of yesteryear. Compression stockings are now virtually indistinguishable from opaque hose and come in a variety of colors. Made from an elastic material, they exert more pressure at the ankle than at the calf. This helps send blood back up through the veins to the heart.

Move around. Take a break every hour. When on a plane, bus, or train, walk the aisles; when driving, stop at a rest area. While seated, practice tracing the letters of the alphabet in the air with one foot, then the other, using the big toe as a "pen point."

Stay awake. Don't take a sleeping pill. A long nap in a seated position lets blood pool in the legs.

Keep hydrated. Drink plenty of water. Avoid alcohol, which is dehydrating. Staying hydrated may mean more bathroom visits, but getting up and walking down the aisle keeps blood circulating.

Wear loose clothing. It's less likely to restrict blood flow.

Ask a doctor about taking low-dose aspirin. There is some evidence that a taking a baby aspirin before a trip can prevent blood clots.

Read the full-length article: "Healthy travel: Don't let this common hazard spoil your best-laid plans"