This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Aside from delays and annoying passenger antics, most flights go off without a hitch. But, on occasion, you might find yourself on a flight where a fellow traveler has a medical emergency. That’s what happened on a 2016 American Airlines flight from Honolulu when Brittany Oswell suffered a pulmonary embolism, more commonly called a blood clot.

Sadly, she died from the incident. And incredibly, she’s not alone.

According to the National Blood Clot Alliance, an average of 274 people die from blood clots every day and 600,000 nonfatal blood clots occur every year. Air travel can increase this risk as you are sitting for long periods with little room to move your legs. This can cause a particular type of blood clot called deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

Sitting in the same position for a long period of time, like on an airplane, can be detrimental to your health. (Photo by Tang Ming Tung / Getty Images)
Sitting in the same position for a long period of time, like on an airplane, can be detrimental to your health. (Photo by Tang Ming Tung / Getty Images)

“DVT’s are more likely to form when there is venous stasis, which means that the blood is pooling in the veins,” Dr. Mehmet Oz (of “The Dr. Oz Show”) told The Points Guy. “This is more likely to happen in people who are sedentary for long periods of time, like on a long plane ride, because part of the way the blood in the leg veins gets back up to the heart is when muscles contract.”

While the condition can resolve itself, in some cases people experience a pulmonary embolism: when the clot travels to the lungs and blocks blood flow there. The blocked blood flow in the lung prevents the body from getting oxygen.

So, how can you tell if you have a blood clot on a plane? We chatted with a couple of experts to learn the symptoms, who is most susceptible and what to do if you develop one during a flight.

Know If You’re at Risk

Several factors can make a person more susceptible to developing a blood clot. “Things that put you at risk for blood clots include certain genetic clotting disorders, being immobilized because of surgery or injury, chronic diseases like heart failure and cancer, smoking and older age,” said Oz.

Different thing can cause blood clots in different people. (Photo by Scottshotz / Getty Images)
Different thing can cause blood clots depending on your demographic. (Photo by Scottshotz / Getty Images)

Dr. Nathan Favini, medical lead at Forward, a new technology-based healthcare startup, added that oral birth control pills and pregnancy also make a blood clot more likely. “Estrogen is thought to be the cause,” he said. “So, forms of birth control that don’t contain estrogen, like IUDs, are safer in this regard.”

If you fall into one of these categories, you should take extra precautions to help prevent blood clots and be aware if you start to develop any symptoms.

Symptoms of a Blood Clot

Knowing you have a blood clot can be tricky, as you can often write off the symptoms as something else, but there are a few key warning signs to pay attention to when traveling. If you experience these symptoms, you should seek medical help immediately.

“If you develop pain, tenderness, swelling, warmth and/or redness in your legs during a flight, those may be signs of a deep vein thrombosis or blood clot,” said Favini. “If you have more than one or many of those symptoms, it becomes more likely that you’re experiencing a clot.”

(Photo by Jasmin Merdan / Getty Images)
Pay attention to the sensations in your legs during a flight to be safe. (Photo by Jasmin Merdan / Getty Images)

The other thing to look out for, according to Favini, is the rapid onset of shortness of breath. This can be a sign that a clot has formed in, or traveled to, your lungs. “If you’re experiencing these symptoms, especially shortness of breath, let the staff on your airplane know right away,” said Favini.

How to Prevent a Blood Clot

So, now you know what to look out for if you’re developing a blood clot. But, there are certain critical steps you can take to avoid one in the first place.

“Drink lots of fluids, but not with caffeine, which makes you pee more so [there’s] less fluid in your blood and it gets sticky [and] clots,. And avoid alcohol,” said Oz. “Then move around every two hours and move [your] feet like stepping on a gas pedal more frequently.”

Featured photo by katso80 / Getty Images.

Know before you go.

News and deals straight to your inbox every day.

2018 TPG Award Winner: Mid-Tier Card of the Year
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

NEW INCREASED OFFER: 60,000 Points

TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,200

CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred named "Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption" - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, June 2018
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
  • No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
18.24% - 25.24% Variable
Annual Fee
$95
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.