Preventing Blood Clots

There are things we can all do to reduce our likelihood of experiencing a dangerous blood clot. For people who are at especially high risk, additional and more specific preventive treatment may be advisable.

Lifestyle Measures

The best way to prevent thrombosis and embolization is to manage your risk factors for blood clots. and to live an overall healthy lifestyle. In general, a lifestyle that promotes heart health and reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer is what you should aim for.

Specific lifestyle changes you can make to prevent blood clots include:

  • Don't smoke
  • Get plenty of exercise
  • Avoid sitting for prolonged periods of time
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Reduce sodium intake
  • Take your medications as prescribed

A Special Word About Smoking

Smoking can have devastating effects on your health. The link between smoking and chronic lung disease and cancer is understood by most, but it's important to know smoking health issues go beyond the lungs.

Smoking causes acute and chronic inflammation in the blood vessels that accelerates atherosclerosis (leading to heart attacks, strokes, and peripheral artery disease) and can cause thrombosis (formation of blood clots). The increased risk for blood clots due to smoking is especially high in women who are pregnant or taking birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy.

Additional Preventive Measures

People with certain medical conditions or other special circumstances should consider additional to measures to prevent blood clots. People who are immobilized for long periods of time, such as those who travel a lot or are bed-ridden, have a chronically elevated risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or pulmonary embolus, or have a high risk of acute coronary syndrome or stroke need to be particularly careful.

Prolonged Travel

If you are taking a long trip by airplane or car, your immediate risk of developing DVT increases substantially.

To lower your risk for travel-related blood clots, you should make every effort to get up and move around every hour or so. If that turns out to be impossible, you can exercise in your seat: stretch your legs, flex your feet, and curl your toes every 15 or 20 minutes.

You should also avoid dehydration and avoid wearing tight socks.

Immobilization Due to Hospitalization, Trauma, or Surgery

If you are temporarily immobilized because of trauma, surgery, or hospitalization, you will have an increased risk of DVT.

Since you are under medical care, your doctor should institute preventive measures and give you advice on preventing a blood clot. These measures may include elevating the foot of your bed, doing specific exercises to keep blood moving through your veins, and taking enough pain medication to keep you moving as much as possible. In some cases, a course of anticoagulant medication may be prescribed.

High Risk of DVT or Pulmonary Embolus

Typically, after an episode of DVT or pulmonary embolus, people are treated for a minimum of three months with an anticoagulant drug. Some people, however, are thought to have a chronic risk of recurrent thrombosis and may require long-term anticoagulation therapy. People in this category include those with:

  • DVT or pulmonary embolus that is already recurrent
  • DVT or pulmonary embolus that was not produced by an identifiable cause (and is therefore likely to come back for “no reason”)
  • Active cancer
  • Genetic propensity to excess blood clotting

The 2020 American Society of Hematology treatment guidelines for venous thromboembolism recommend indefinite use of anticoagulants in people with recurrent unprovoked DVT or pulmonary embolism.

Atrial Fibrillation

People with chronic or recurrent atrial fibrillation have a high risk of developing blood clots in the left atrium of the heart. These clots can break off and result in a stroke. People with atrial fibrillation that is not merely transient should be treated with chronic anticoagulation therapy.

High Risk of Acute Coronary Syndrome or Stroke

People who are at high risk of having an episode of acute coronary syndrome (a condition that causes heart attacks and unstable angina) should be placed on anti-platelet drugs (such as aspirin or Plavix) to reduce the risk of clot formation in case of a rupture of an atherosclerotic plaque. Anti-platelet drugs are also used to prevent thrombosis after a stent is placed in a coronary artery.

Anti-platelet drugs are also commonly used to reduce the risk of subsequent strokes in people who have had a thrombotic stroke.

Blood Clots Doctor Discussion Guide

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Article Sources
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  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Your Guide to Preventing and Treating Blood Clots. Last reviewed August 2017.

  2. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Blood Clots During Travel. Last reviewed October 23, 2017.

  3. National Institutes of Health. Blood thinners. Page last reviewed April 17, 2015.

  4. Kearon C, Akl EA. Duration of anticoagulant therapy for deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism. Blood. 2014 Mar 20;123(12):1794-801. doi: 10.1182/blood-2013-12-512681.

  5. Rodger MA, Le Gal G. Who should get long-term anticoagulant therapy for venous thromboembolism and with what?Blood Adv. 2018;2(21):3081-3087. doi:10.1182/bloodadvances.2018020230

  6. Ortel TL, Neumann I, Ageno W, et al. American Society of Hematology 2020 guidelines for management of venous thromboembolism: treatment of deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism. Blood Adv. 2020 Oct 13;4(19):4693-4738. doi: 10.1182/bloodadvances.2020001830.

  7. Violi F, Pastori D, Pignatelli P. Mechanisms and Management of Thrombo-Embolism In Atrial FibrillationJ Atr Fibrillation. 2014;7(3):1112. doi:10.4022/jafib.1112

  8. Rothlisberger JM, Ovbiagele B. Antiplatelet therapies for secondary stroke prevention: an update on clinical and cost-effectivenessJ Comp Eff Res. 2015;4(4):377-384. doi:10.2217/cer.15.22

Additional Reading
  • Baglin T, Bauer K, Douketis J, et al. Duration Of Anticoagulant Therapy After A First Episode Of An Unprovoked Pulmonary Embolus Or Deep Vein Thrombosis: Guidance From The Ssc Of The Isth. J Thromb Haemost 2012; 10:698. DOI: 10.1111/j.1538-7836.2012.04662.x
  • Kearon C, Ageno W, Cannegieter SC, et al. Categorization Of Patients As Having Provoked Or Unprovoked Venous Thromboembolism: Guidance From The Ssc Of Isth. J Thromb Haemost 2016; 14:1480. DOI: 10.1111/jth.13336
  • Lansberg MG, O'donnell Mj, Khatri P, et al. Antithrombotic And Thrombolytic Therapy For Ischemic Stroke: Antithrombotic Therapy And Prevention Of Thrombosis, 9Th Ed: American College Of Chest Physicians Evidence-Based Clinical Practice Guidelines. Chest 2012; 141:E601S. DOI: 10.1378/chest.11-2302
  • Wright RS, Anderson Jl, Adams Cd, et al. 2011 ACCF/AHA Focused Update Of The Guidelines For The Management Of Patients With Unstable Angina/ Non-St-Elevation Myocardial Infarction (Updating The 2007 Guideline): A Report Of The American College Of Cardiology Foundation/American Heart Association Task Force On Practice Guidelines. Circulation 2011; 123:2022. DOI: 10.1016/j.jacc.2011.02.009