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How to lower your blood clot risk while traveling this holiday season

Long periods of holiday travel might increase your risk for blood clots. Experts explain what to watch for.
How to lower your blood clot risk while traveling this holiday season
Posted at 7:10 PM, Dec 20, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-20 21:12:06-05

The CDC says anyone traveling by air, by car, or bus for 4 hours or longer is at a greater risk for developing blood clots.

The good news is, you can help lower that risk.

You might not think about blood clots around the holidays but that is exactly what Rebecca Lilly, from Houston, Texas, wants you to think about as you pack and head on your way this holiday season. 

Seven flights and two years ago, she was on her way from Houston to Boston for Christmas.

"I flew to Boston, which is about a four-hour flight," Lilly said. "Was really happy to get a direct flight that time. And then from there, immediately drove three hours to Vermont. When we got to Vermont is when I started having some calf pain, which of course, as women, we ignore."

That pain would turn out to be a blood clot in her leg. Doctors would perform emergency surgery on it. As she was recovering in the hospital, they found another two blood clots in her heart and lungs. 

Thankfully, they did not have to operate a second time, and blood thinners helped her recover.

SEE MORE: Will we have a white and snowy Christmas?

Cardiologist Dr. Daniel Hermann diagnosed his own blood clots after traveling around the New Year's holiday in 2021.

"I get a complete workup every six months," Hermann said. "Bloodwork, ultrasounds, everything to make sure that I'm blood clot free."

He says it's important for people who are traveling and stationary for long periods of time to know what it might feel like.

"It can occur in one of the upper extremities," Hermann said. "Almost always it's in the legs, usually in the calf. And it's an uncomfortable sensation. It's usually associated with some visible swelling. Usually you can see that it seems like one calf is bigger than the other one."

People who are more at risk for blood clots include those previously hospitalized or recovering from surgery, or who have certain types of cancer or history of blood clots.

Pregnant women and women on birth control also carry more risk. 

Drinking extra water, compression socks, and getting up to stretch or move helps lower the risk.

"Certainly this should not dissuade someone from traveling," Hermann said. "It should be something you should be aware of if you happen to be going out and during the holidays in that fashion."

Rebecca Lilly is also preaching another tip while traveling, to anyone who will listen.

"I don't care how dirty you think the airplane bathroom is, you get up, you walk, you go to the bathroom," Lilly said.


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