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.

What Is a Blood Clot?

Verywell / Emily Roberts

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's health dangers 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 measures to prevent blood clots. People who are immobilized for long periods of time, such as those who travel a lot or are bedridden have a chronically elevated risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or pulmonary embolism, 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.

Staying hydrated and wearing compression socks can also help mitigate your risk for DVT during air travel.

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 healthcare provider 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 Embolism

Typically, after an episode of DVT or pulmonary embolism, 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 embolism that is already recurrent
  • DVT or pulmonary embolism 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 (heart attack or 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 Healthcare Provider Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next healthcare appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Doctor Discussion Guide Old Man

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Should I take aspirin to prevent blood clots?

    Not without your healthcare provider's approval. Taking aspirin daily as a preventive measure used to be widely recommended, but this is no longer considered safe for everyone. If you're considered high risk for blood clots, your healthcare provider may suggest a low-dose daily aspirin, but if you're not at risk, the side effects may outweigh the benefits.

  • How can I prevent blood clots naturally?

    The best way to prevent blood clots from occurring is to reduce your risk factors through lifestyle changes, such as:

    • Not smoking
    • Getting regular exercise
    • Not sitting for extended periods of time
    • Maintaining a healthy weight
    • Reducing your sodium intake
    • Taking any medications as prescribed by your healthcare provider
  • How can I prevent blood clots after surgery?

    After surgery, your body naturally increases clotting factor production to heal any affected tissues and blood vessels, which can mean you may be at a higher risk for a blood clot. To prevent clots from forming after surgery, your healthcare provider may:

    • Prescribe a blood thinner, such as warfarin or heparin
    • Recommend that you begin moving around as soon as you're able
    • Suggest that you wear compression stockings while you recover
  • How can I avoid getting a blood clot when flying?

    Because flying often means sitting still in one place for long periods of time, it's a risk factor for deep vein thrombosis (DVT). To avoid a blood clot when you're in the air:

    • Aim to move around as much as possible, getting up at least once every hour
    • Stretch your legs, roll your ankles, and curl your toes while in your seat
    • Wear compression socks while traveling
    • Stay hydrated
10 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Your guide to preventing and treating blood clots.

  2. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Blood clots during travel.

  3. Clarke MJ, Broderick C, Hopewell S, Juszczak E, Eisinga A. Compression stockings for preventing deep vein thrombosis in airline passengersCochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016;9(9):CD004002. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD004002.pub3

  4. National Institutes of Health. Blood thinners.

  5. 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.

  6. 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

  7. 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.

  8. 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

  9. 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

  10. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Before using aspirin to reduce your risk of heart attack or stroke, what you should know.

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(4):698-702. 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(7):1480-1483. 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(2 Suppl):e601S-e636S. 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. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2011;57(19):1920-1959. doi: 10.1016/j.jacc.2011.02.009

By Richard N. Fogoros, MD
Richard N. Fogoros, MD, is a retired professor of medicine and board-certified in internal medicine, clinical cardiology, and clinical electrophysiology.