How do I avoid blood clots if I have to fly after major surgery?

Dr. Michael L. Schwartz, MD
Vascular Surgeon

If you have to fly after major surgery, you can reduce the risk of blood clots by exercising your legs while seated and trying to get up every hour or so to walk the aisle. Surgical compression stockings are also a good idea to wear on the flight. Major surgery and flying both put people at risk for developing a blood clot in the leg. This is known as a deep vein thrombosis, or DVT.

Get up and move every 45 minutes on a flight to prevent blood clots from forming.

Major surgery puts you at risk of forming blood clots for up to three months.

A long trip during which you can't move around much impedes circulation in your lower body, which also increases your chances of clots. When a travel-related clot forms, it's often in a deep vein of the leg or pelvis and is called a deep vein thrombosis (DVT). If a clot breaks free and travels to your lungs, it can be fatal. Here's how to lower your DVT risk:

  • Move your butt. Get up every half hour to walk about the cabin. Moving your leg muscles helps "pump" blood.
  • Roll and flex. If you can’t get up, roll your ankles and flex and point your toes at least 10 times every half hour to activate your leg muscles.
  • Drink lots of water and no alcohol. Do not become dehydrated. It makes blood thicker and more likely to clot.
  • Wear compression stockings. They apply graduated pressure on your legs from the ankles up, which keeps blood moving.
  • Wear loose clothes (no body shapers), and don't cross your legs. Putting any kinks on lower-body veins inhibits circulation.
  • Take two baby aspirin. If your doctor says it's okay, take them with half a glass of water one hour before your flight and every day for three days afterward.


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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.