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J Travel Med. 2005 May-Jun;12(3):142-54.

Traveler's thrombosis: a systematic review.

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  • 1Clinical Trials Centre, Faculty of Medicine, The University of Hong Kong.



Anecdotal evidence suggests a possible link between travel and venous thromboembolism (VTE). We systematically evaluated the evidence from observational studies.


We searched studies evaluating the risk of venous thrombosis in relation to traveling from MEDLINE and EMBASE up tp March 2004, together with a hand search of reference lists from retrieved literature, and we contacted some of the experts. Observational studies estimating the risks of VTE and isolated calf vein thrombosis were eligible. Methodologic quality was assessed based on prior criteria, and meta-analysis was considered where applicable.


A total of 194 English-language publications were initially identified. Sixteen studies were included: 9 case-control, 2 prospective controlled, and 5 other observational studies. They differed drastically in study designs, selection of controls where applicable, mode and duration of travel, and subtypes of VTE under consideration. Ten studies concluded that travel, mostly through air and of prolonged duration, is a risk factor for venous thrombosis and/or pulmonary embolism, and the risk increases for passengers with preexisting venous thrombosis risk factors. Outcomes examined ranged from asymptomatic isolated calf muscle vein thrombosis to severe fatal pulmonary embolism.


Current literature is controversial over any association between travel and VTE, and although the quality and power of these studies have been variable, studies of higher quality have shown a strong and significant association between prolonged air travel and VTE. No conclusions could be drawn about other modes of transportation. Since VTE is a disease of multifactorial causation, those with preexisting VTE risk factors are most vulnerable.

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