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Flying and Blood Clots: What You Should Know

written by Dr. Christine Bishara - Apr 24, 2023

Photo Credit: by Adrienn,
Photo Credit: by Adrienn,

It’s a known fact that flying increases the risk of developing blood clots and the longer the flight, the higher the risk, but why is that? Let’s explore what happens when you fly and why your chances of developing a clot while flying increases. A healthy person’s overall chances of developing a blood clot from flying is low, but some people are more prone to developing clots than others. In one study, the chances of developing a blood clot or DVT (deep venous thrombosis) was estimated to double with flights lasting 8 hours or longer. Venous Thrombosis After Long-haul Flights

Another study estimated that 1 in 4,600 travelers will have a blood clot within 4 weeks of a long flight. Blood Clots During Travel | Travelers' Health | CDC

So the question arises, why does the risk increase after a long flight?

High altitudes such as when flying on an airplane or during mountain climbing leads to lower levels of oxygen saturation which increases the blood’s viscosity (the thickness and stickiness of blood).

High risk conditions include:

● Over the age of 60

● Pregnancy

● Certain autoimmune conditions such as Lupus

● Recent hospitalization or long-term bed rest

● Recent surgery

● Cancer and cancer treatments

● Smoking

● Birth control pills

● Certain infections such as Covid-19

● Previous history of blood clots and or a personal or family history of a clotting disorder

● Obesity

● Certain conditions such as heart disease and congestive heart failure

What can you do to decrease your risk:

● Stand up or walk occasionally while on your flight. It is recommended that you do this every one to two hours. You can also exercise your calves and stretch your legs while sitting by extending and flexing your heels, as well as tightening and releasing your calf muscles.

● Staying hydrated is highly recommended when flying. Airplanes have very low humidity which means less moisture in the air– leading to faster dehydration. Drink adequate amounts of water several hours prior to a flight and continue hydrating while in the air.

● Speak to your doctor about wearing compression stockings, especially if you have a pre-existing condition that increases your risk.

● Many people wonder if taking a baby aspirin a few hours before a flight could help prevent a blood clot. While aspirin does help to thin the blood, it can pose some risks such as stomach upset or increase risk of bleeding in certain individuals. It may however be a good preventive tactic for some people with underlying risk factors and it is best to check with your doctor to see if this is worth considering. If you already have a pre-existing condition requiring a blood thinner, it is generally considered safe to continue taking the medication while flying, but again, it’s always better to check with your doctor.

A few important things to remember while flying:

While each case is different, it is not advised to travel if:

● If you were recently diagnosed with a DVT, or if you're on a blood thinner for a DVT diagnosed within 4 weeks of travel. Always get clearance from your doctor when traveling, whether you're on blood thinner or have one of conditions that may increase your risk.

● Recent surgery: There is an increased risk of clotting within 4-6 weeks of surgery but again, this varies case by case, depending on the type of surgery. Orthopedic surgeries, surgeries related to cancer treatment or heart bypass surgeries pose a higher risk.

● Pregnancy. It is generally considered safe to travel during uncomplicated, healthy pregnancies with optimal time of travel between 14-28 weeks. Most airlines discourage travel for pregnant women of more than 36 weeks gestation. Traveling While Pregnant or Breastfeeding | Johns Hopkins Medicine

Are you someone who is on a blood thinner or has an increased risk due to one of the conditions mentioned? Speak to your doctor about the risks and how to plan for your next trip.

If you are on a blood thinner that is not covered by insurance or has a high out of pocket expense, Canada Pharmacy Online has the following medications at reduced costs:

Buy Eliquis Online – Apixaban Canada

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