Preventing clots in the deep veins in your legs (deep vein thrombosis) will help prevent pulmonary embolism. For this reason, most hospitals are aggressive about taking measures to prevent blood clots, including:

  • Anticoagulants. Anticoagulants are often given to people at risk of clots before and after an operation — as well as to people admitted to the hospital with a heart attack, stroke or complications of cancer.
  • Compression stockings. Compression stockings steadily squeeze your legs, helping your veins and leg muscles move blood more efficiently. They offer a safe, simple and inexpensive way to keep blood from stagnating during and after general surgery.
  • Pneumatic compression. This treatment uses thigh-high or calf-high cuffs that automatically inflate with air and deflate every few minutes to massage and squeeze the veins in your legs and improve blood flow.
  • Physical activity. Moving as soon as possible after surgery can help prevent pulmonary embolism and hasten recovery overall. This is one of the main reasons your nurse may push you to get up, even on your day of surgery, and walk despite pain at the site of your surgical incision.
  • Leg elevation. Elevating your legs when possible and during the night also can be very effective. Raise the bottom of your bed 4 to 6 inches with blocks or books.

Prevention while traveling

The risk of blood clots developing while traveling is low, but increases as travel increases. If you have risk factors for blood clots and you're concerned about traveling, talk with your doctor. He or she might suggest the following steps to help prevent blood clots from forming:

  • Take a break from sitting. Move around the airplane cabin once an hour or so. If you're driving, stop every hour and walk around the car a couple of times. Do a few deep knee bends.
  • Fidget in your seat. Flex your ankles every 15 to 30 minutes, or try rising up and down on your toes while standing. Don't sit with your legs crossed at the knees for long periods of time.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Water is the best liquid for preventing dehydration, which can contribute to the development of blood clots. Avoid alcohol, which contributes to fluid loss.
  • Wear support stockings. Your doctor may recommend these to help promote circulation and fluid movement in your legs. Compression stockings no longer look like something only a grandmother would wear — they're available in a range of stylish colors and textures. There are even devices, called stocking butlers, to help you put on the stockings.
March 18, 2015

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