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A Silent Assassin: Blood Clots

a graphic of heart anatomy within a body, and blood clots

Think for a moment: what do you know about blood clots? In my previous post, I discussed my personal experience of nearly dying in Ireland. Since then, it has become important to me that I share information about prevention with as many people as possible. Yes, the risk of getting blood clots while traveling, or sitting at work or home, is considered small, but it is important to understand a blood clot is not an event relegated to the sedentary, elderly, overweight, or chronically ill. Blood clots can and do happen to healthy people of all ages!

FACT: For about 1 out of 3 people who experience a Pulmonary Embolism (PE) blood clot, their first symptom is SUDDEN DEATH.

That's pretty terrifying, isn't it? Blood clots are stealthy, sneaky, and don't always announce themselves with signs or symptoms. They can be lethal without warning! Read on to find out more about blood clots, their cause, how to know your risk and ways to decrease it, and some resources too!

If You Travel, or Sit at Work or Home for Extended Periods of Time, You’re At Risk for DVT and PE Blood Clots

While there are several risk factors for blood clots, simply traveling for greater than four hours, whether by plane, train, bus or car, increases your risk of developing Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), a blood clot in the leg, or Pulmonary Embolism (PE), a blood clot in the lung. When DVT and PE happen together, it is also known as Venous Thromboembolism (VTE) and you may see that written in some places that talk about blood clots. The important thing to remember is this: the longer you travel or sit in one go, or the more long trips you take over time, the higher your risk.

Other Risk Factors for DVT and PE Blood Clots

While travel or sitting for four hours or greater is itself a stand-alone risk factor for blood clots, there are several other risk factors that can cause blood clots and can also increase the risk already in place when you travel. If you have any of the below risk factors, please talk to your doctor about whether you should wear compression stockings while you travel, or if you should take a blood-thinning medication prior to travel.

  • Age 65 or older.

  • Obesity.

  • Inability to move, or decreased mobility, like being in a leg cast or, like me, hobbling along with a cane.

  • Birth Control Pills, Patch, or Ring.

  • Hormone Replacement Therapy.

  • Pregnancy.

  • Inherited Blood Clotting Disorder.

  • Previous DVT or PE.

Awareness of your risk factors and taking active steps toward prevention can keep you from becoming a devastating statistic. Knowledge is power! What can you do to keep from developing blood clots during and after travel? How will you know if you have one?

Steps to Take During Travel (or Extended Sitting) to Prevent DVT and PE Blood Clots

  • Move your legs and feet! Push your toes down on the floor and raise your heels, then push your heels down on the floor and raise your toes.

  • Try to stretch your legs out and decrease your seated angle from 90 degrees upright to as ‘slouchy’ as you can get.

  • Get out of your seat and walk around. Doing this at least once an hour is preferable.

  • Drink plenty of fluids, especially water.

  • Skip the alcohol and caffeine – they are dehydrating.

  • Do not cross your legs.

  • Wear loose comfortable clothing.

  • Avoid sleeping pills and long rest periods.

  • If you’re in a car, stop every hour, get out and walk around for at least five minutes.

Signs and Symptoms of DVT and PE Blood Clots*

Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) Signs and Symptoms:

  • Swelling, usually in one leg.

  • Leg pain or tenderness.

  • Leg warm to touch.

  • Reddish or bluish discoloration

Pulmonary Embolism (PE) Signs and Symptoms:

  • Sudden shortness of breath.

  • Unexplained cough, sometimes you will see blood or blood-tinged mucous.

  • Fast heart rate.

  • Sharp or stabbing chest pain that may get worse with each breath.

*(Some people have NO symptoms, especially of a DVT in the leg.)

If you have been traveling, and especially if you have other risk factors, and you become aware of any of the above, it is imperative that you seek medical attention immediately. Sadly it’s been my experience both for myself and in reading stories of others who have had blood clots that these symptoms are too often brushed off by medical personnel, especially if the patient is young and otherwise healthy. Remember: you know your body better than anyone. If something doesn’t feel right and you think you might have a blood clot, insist on a complete work-up and don’t take no for an answer. Your life could depend on you being your own advocate. I ignored very obvious symptoms and it nearly cost me my life. Don’t be like me! Seek care.


There are several fantastic online resources to learn more about DVT and PE blood clots and your risk for them, and what to look for in regard to symptoms. Outside of what I knew as an RN about blood clots (which obviously didn’t do me a lick of good in Ireland since I ignored it), everything new I’ve discovered since my horrid VTE experience has come from the amazing sites listed below. I am especially fond of the Blood Clot Recovery Network’s discussion group on Facebook. Sara, the founder of BCRN and the connected discussion group, is a DVT and PE blood clot survivor. She and the group’s members supported me through several post-diagnosis years of fear, anxiety, panic, good news, bad news, and were all-around fantastic. I hope all who are reading this never need that group but if you do, it’s there and it helps.

Sites to visit:

These resource sites are filled with massive amounts of info and contain everything you need to know about DVT and PE blood clots. I read them regularly to keep up with the latest information and I strongly encourage every traveler to take a look at these sites and do the same. Share the information. KNOW YOUR RISK. Most importantly, take good care of yourself and pay attention to your body. It could save your life!

(Disclaimer: I am not a physician or other qualified medical practitioner and therefore offer no medical advice. Please speak to your doctor regarding any and all health concerns.)

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