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Safety Tips for Car Travel With a Pulmonary Embolism or Blood Clot

Lena Welch was diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism and factor V Leiden in 2008. She has participated in support groups for each condition.

You never know what will happen when on a long drive. Be prepared!

You never know what will happen when on a long drive. Be prepared!

Blood Clots and Travel

It's well known that air travel raises the risk of potentially-fatal blood clots. Did you know, however, that traveling by car, bus, boat, and train can also be risky?

Anytime that you sit still for more than 1-2 hours, your blood begins to coagulate. Coagulation means clots. The risk is increased for anyone who has thrombophilia, clotting disorders, surgery, pregnancy, hormone use, and/or a history of blood clots. Once you have had a pulmonary embolism or deep vein thrombosis (DVT), you need to be extra cautious when traveling as you are at an increased risk of a second clot. As traveling is already a risk, if you have a history of clotting, you will need to be especially careful when you travel.

What I Do When I Have a Long Car Ride

When driving or being a car passenger, for every 8 hours in the car, I spend an hour out of the car. My TomTom is always on when I take longer trips. (By longer, I mean any trip that takes an hour or more in the car.) It has a great feature called, "driving breaks." It will alert me every two hours that I need to take a break. It gives me a 15-minute warning when I am getting close to my time. I can mark the time when I take my break and get back on the road again.

Throughout the trip, I need to make sure that I am hydrated. I carry water and Gatorade with me. When it is hot or when I visit a dry climate, I must be very conscious of how much I am drinking and when my last drink was.

I had a pulmonary embolism on July 18, 2008, and am at increased risk for a future clot due to that history and heterozygous Factor V Leiden. I have had no problems with car travel so far.

How Unwanted Blood Clots Form

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Tips to Help Prevent Clotting on Long Car Rides

Road trips and other extended car travel increase the risk of blood clots. Many people like to get in a car and drive straight through to their destination, only stopping when they need gas. It gets the trip over with more quickly but puts the driver and occupants at a much larger risk. Blood clots can travel to the lungs, block the flow of oxygen, damage the lungs, possibly cause heart damage, and in a number of cases cause instant death. Luckily, they are easy to prevent.

Take Frequent Breaks

The best rule of thumb is to take a break every hour or two. Get up, walk, and stretch and the risk of blood clots decreases. The largest reason that the risk goes up on a road trip is that the car occupants are sitting still for hours on end. Blood that is pooled and sitting still has a tendency to form clots. People are at a greater risk for this happening when they are in one position for greater than 1-2 hours.

Stay Hydrated

Make sure that you are drinking water throughout your journey. The other thing that can increase risk on a road trip is dehydration. Many people worry about bathroom breaks while driving. They worry about restroom availability, cleanliness, and time used for the bathroom break. To decrease the need to urinate, people will often drink less while taking long car trips. This increases the risk of a potentially fatal blood clot.

Avoid drinks that will irritate the bladder or are diuretics. Tea, coffee, and drinks with caffeine (soda) will all cause increased urination. This can contribute to dehydration and clots. It will also discourage you from drinking as much because you will get irritated about having to use the restroom frequently. Stick with water, Gatorade, Powerade, or Pedialyte.

Additional Tips for High-Risk Drivers and Passengers:

  • Have your INR checked 3-4 days before your trip to make sure that you are therapeutic.
  • Ask your doctor about low molecular weight heparin.
  • Don't cross your legs.
  • Try using graduated compression stockings.
  • Break your trip into small chunks and stay at hotels in between.
  • Have your INR checked 3-4 days before your trip to make sure that you are therapeutic.

Further Reading

If you need information about air travel after a blood clot, please read my article on this topic: How to Fly Safely After a Pulmonary Embolism or Blood Clot.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.


Chaz1968 on February 02, 2017:

Hi Lena, was your PE provoked? Have you remained off of blood thinners? I'm terrified of reoccurrence. I had a PE unprovoked in April 2016 and tested positive for Heterozygous FVL. I was taking Xarelto for 10 months and recently got the ok to discontinue for one month on aspirin and see what DDimer reads. I've lost 50 lbs. and quit smoking, eat a very healthy diet and exercise. Hoping by reducing risk factors will help not to reclot. How are you doing ??

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