blood clots

Blood clots in the veins of the legs can be serious. Not only do they cause swelling, inflammation and pain in the affected leg, but they can also break loose and lodge in the lung. Blood clots in the lung are known as pulmonary embolisms and they can compromise breathing. A pulmonary embolism may be life threatening, so it makes sense to avoid blood clots whenever possible.

One behavior that can raise the risk for this complication is sitting still for a long time. A long flight of five hours or more fits this bill. At one time, it was termed “economy-class syndrome” because the per-passenger space in the economy class compartment of the airplane is especially limited. However, any passenger who sits still for a long time,whether in a plane, train, automobile or even a bus, can develop blood clots as a result.

Avoiding Bloot Clots on a Long Flight:

Q. My wife and I will be flying to Europe in a couple of weeks. We’re concerned about the possibility of blood clots in our legs.

Air passengers are hardly allowed to walk around during the flight any more. Even standing for more than a few minutes is discouraged. Seats only recline a little bit so it is hard to sleep. Is there anything we can do to reduce our risk?

A. There are a few things that will help. Make sure you wear compression hose for the flight. That can lower the risk of a clot.

In addition, learn foot and leg exercises that can be done while seated, such as ankle circles, foot lifts and knee raises. These help keep the blood in your legs from pooling without creating too much annoyance for the passengers seated around you.

What About Aspirin?

One other option is aspirin. For years, experts told us that aspirin was ineffective against blood clot formation in veins. A study in the European Journal of Internal Medicine (Jan. 2014) contradicted that belief, however. Low-dose aspirin reduces the likelihood of clot formation by as much as 30 percent in high-risk patients.

Ask your physician if aspirin would be safe for you and your wife during your flight. And enjoy your visit in Europe!

Get The Graedons' Favorite Home Remedies Health Guide for FREE

Join our daily email newsletter with breaking health news, prescription drug information, home remedies AND you'll get a copy of our brand new full-length health guide — for FREE!

  1. Betty
    ALtamonte Springs, Fl.

    What foot and leg exercises do you recommend when one is sitting for quiet a length of time ?

  2. Ellen

    A friend died on a flight from Africa because of a blood clot. He was NOT high-risk. This is important information!

  3. Diane S.

    The last time I flew to England from Dallas there was no room to do knee lifts and ankle cirlces.

  4. Julie

    A nurse friend suggested an inflatable pillow to put feet on to elevate them and take pressure off of knees and help with lower leg circulation. Just bought an inexpensive one online (listed as an inflatable foot rest pillow). It is rectangular and about 5-7 inches tall. Will try it on my next flight.

  5. Cindy W.

    My husband had pulmonary embolism once while he was on Eliqis. Now we have added nattokinase enzyme in his daily supplements. We feel a lot less worry.

  6. dzrlib

    I have always avoided flying directly from Los Angeles to Europe, by stopping in New York overnight. Flying Southwest to Islip, on day one … driving around Long Island on day two, and going to Kennedy Airport in the early evening for an over night flight to Heathrow.

  7. Ccryrder

    Having had one embolism, if I am to be in the air 6-8 hours, my cardiologist prescribes a shot of Lovenox in the stomach just before take-off. I can do so right through my sweater if necessary. If longer than 6-8 hrs. I take one per 8 hours – as a trip from the mid central area of the US to anywhere in the South Pacific or New Zealand. Ive not had another embolism, and I fly often.

  8. Pat L

    Good advice re compression stockings and exercises while sitting on a plane, also low dose of daily aspirin; I do all three and as well try not to sit too long at home, etc. Also, go to restroom more often when there’s not a line…this keeps you moving more.
    (I have Factor 5 Leiden, had a DVT 2 mos after arthroscopic knee surgery four years ago, was on Warfarin for six months only…no further blood clotting issues at this point.)

  9. Ellen
    North Carolina

    I’ve been told by both chiropractors and medical doctors to trace the alphabet with your toes every hour as a way to prevent blood clots on long trips.

  10. Dolores F
    Cornwall, NY

    I’m 87, Medical Conditions: Sleep Apnea/COPD/GERD

    I had two recent flights:
    1. 8/23: TPA (Tampa) –> BWI (Baltimore/Washington)
    9/03: BWI –> TPA
    I had an Aisle Seat, on both flights) walked to furthest lavatory 3 times

    Last Thursday, 9/7. Flight from MCO (Orlando) –> SWF (Newburgh NY)
    To escape Hurricane Irma
    This time I didn’t have an aisle seat but a Window Seat. The passenger next to me was a beautiful, sweet UCF student, also escaping Irma. Again, I made 2 trips to the furthest lavatory.

    My blood seems to be very fluid, inasmuch as a baby aspirin will result in a few “purpura” marks on my arms. Very seldom do I take aspirin.

    I’m scheduled for return flight home (Lake Seminole Square, Seminole, FL) on 9/28. By then I’m hoping we have electricity and no flooding.

    Incidentally, I find the articles on people’s pharmacy interesting and educational!

  11. Judy

    My doctor recommends Nattokinase as a natural blood thinner. It works for me and my husband, who has had 2 heart attacks. I use it for my legs and has reduced my episodes due to lack of circulation.

  12. Steve

    I will be going to Israel soon. That is an 11 hour flight give or take. I plan wearing pressure stockings and taking low dose aspirin. I am also in first class, which gives me more space to walk around. I do not anticipate having any problems.

  13. Garry TM

    Also, it is especially important for avoiding clots to stay well hydrated. This will directly affect the viscosity of the blood. Blood which is thick and sludgy is a major cause of heart attacks.

  14. Garry TM

    I believe it will be valuable to research the subject of Nattozyme or Nattokinase [same product]. Developed years ago at the University of Chicago this enzyme is backed by studies showing it to prevent and dissolve blood clots. It does this by reducing excess fibrin. Fibrin is a clotting factor. We need fibrin but too much is a hazard.

    Studies have shown it dissolves clots as effectively as drugs used for that purpose, in fact sometimes more rapidly. If interested, consult with your doctor, especially if you are taking any drugs.

    I have taken Nattozyme daily for many years and recommend it to those going on lengthy flights. Always check with your pharmacist or doctor.

  15. Linda
    Rhode Island

    What do pilots do who fly internationally? Are they among the highest risk?

  16. Paul

    How does it work?
    Nattokinase decreases the ability of blood to clot. This “thins the blood” and might protect against conditions caused by blood clots such as stroke, heart attack, and others.

    I understand it destroys blood clots when it encounters them….

What Do You Think?

We invite you to share your thoughts with others, but remember that our comment section is a public forum. Please do not use your full first and last name if you want to keep details of your medical history anonymous. A first name and last initial or a pseudonym is acceptable. Advice from other commenters on this website is not a substitute for medical attention. Do not stop any medicine without checking with the prescriber. Stopping medication suddenly could result in serious harm. We expect comments to be civil in tone and language. By commenting, you agree to abide by our commenting policy and website terms & conditions. Comments that do not follow these policies will not be posted.

Your cart

Shipping and discount codes are added at checkout.