It is the time of the year that I start thinking about vacations. One of the first things I plan for is not my wardrobe, but my compression stockings. They can save my life. Vacations can be a particularly dangerous time for DVT because the extended time spent in an airplane, car, or train can increase your risk for Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT). Air travel is the notorious culprit for causing DVT. In an airplane you are sitting crammed between two other travelers. The air on the plane is dry, and the pressure is decreased with lower oxygen levels. The passenger’s legs are bent in the same position for hours and the seat you are sitting in for your safety is constructed with a fairly ridged metal frame which is cutting into the back of your legs compressing the popliteal vein and slowing down the blood returning to your heart. At this point you are a prime candidate for developing a DVT. Any situation in which the leg is bent at the knee for prolonged periods with little or no activity may lead to the reduction of blood flow and increase the risk of blood clots.
Risk factors which can increase your risk of DVT include:
Injury to a vein, often caused by:
- Severe muscle injury
- Major surgery (especially of the abdomen, pelvis, hip, or legs)
Slow blood flow, often caused by:
- Confinement to bed (possibly due to a medical condition or after surgery)
- Limited movement (a cast on an extremity to help heal an injured bone)
- Sitting for a long time, especially with crossed legs
- Sedate lifestyle
- Birth control pills
- Hormone replacement therapy, sometimes used after menopause
- Pregnancy, for up to 6 weeks after giving birth
Certain Chronic medical illnesses:
- Heart disease
- Lung disease
- Cancer and its treatment
- Inflammatory bowl disease (Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis)
Other facts that increase the risk of DVT include:
- Previous DVT or PE
- Family history of DVT or PE
- Age (risk increases as age increases)
- A catheter located in a central vein
- Inherited clotting disorders
- Varicose veins
A DVT may not have any symptoms but can cause pain, swelling and your leg (or arm) could feel warm to touch. If left untreated, a piece of the DVT (blood clot) can break loose and travel through the right side of the heart, and lodge in small or large branches of the pulmonary artery (blood vessels going to the lungs). This is called a pulmonary embolism or PE. The symptoms can be chest pain, difficulty breathing, or coughing up blood or as extreme as collapse and sudden death.
Here are some simple steps to keep your travel from ending with a prolonged trip to the emergency room:
- Wear properly fit compression socks or compression hose to prevent stagnation of the blood and increase the blood flow back to the heart.
- Keep moving. When you travel, get up and move around when it is safe to do so.
- Drink plenty of water. Water helps keep you hydrated and less likely to develop clots
- Avoid alcohol! Alcohol contributes to dehydration, which thickens the blood
- Exercise your legs. Bend and straighten them several times ever half hour to hour.
The following was provided courtesy JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association)
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Sitting can be dangerous to your health,
PS What is your favorite sock for travel?