STATE — It’s important to take steps to prevent potentially fatal blood clots that can develop in travelers who sit in cramped seats for hours at a time, according to Health and Senior Services Commissioner Dr. Poonam Alaigh, who has specialized medical training in diseases of the blood vessels.
Deep-vein thrombosis (DVT) is a serious condition that occurs when the circulation in veins and blood becomes stagnant and you develop a blood clot in a deep vein –usually in the lower leg or thigh – causing pain, leg swelling and skin discoloration. In the most serious cases, the clot can break loose and travel to the lungs, causing potentially fatal damage to the lung and other organs. Each year, more than 100,000 deaths in the U.S. are linked to either DVT or pulmonary embolism, a potentially fatal lung condition.
“As a physician specializing in vascular diseases, I encourage people to take simple steps—like staying hydrated and taking frequent breaks—to protect against this often silent condition that can occur suddenly, even in healthy people,” Alaigh said. “Although the overall risk of developing DVT is small, it increases when you travel more than four hours, or if you have certain risk factors. And the risk remains higher in the weeks following your trip.”
In addition to being potentially life-threatening, DVT can cause ongoing swelling and pain in the leg that can reduce a person’s ability to be active, and it predisposes the person to another episode of DVT.
Dr. Alaigh recommends everyone take the following precautions during long trips:
- Move as much as possible. If you’re traveling by car, take hourly breaks to walk around. On planes, trains and buses, change your posture and walk up and down the aisles as much as possible.
- When you’re sitting, move your legs and flex and stretch your feet often. Tighten and release your leg muscles, raise and lower your toes while keeping your heels on the floor, and then raise and lower your heels while keeping your toes on the floor.
- So you’ll have more room to stretch your legs and feet, stow your carry-on items overhead instead of under the seat in front of you.
- Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of fluids, especially water, but avoid alcohol and caffeine.
- Wear loose and comfortable clothing that is not too tight around the waist or legs.
The following factors put people at higher risk of DVT and pulmonary embolism:
- Having certain inherited blood disorders or factors that make your blood thicker or more likely to clot
- Having a family history or previous DVT or pulmonary embolism
- Being overweight or obese
- Increased age, particularly age 50 and older
- Ethnicity — African Americans and Whites are more likely to develop DVT
- Among women, use of hormones or oral contraceptives
- Cancer or cancer treatment
- Pregnancy and childbirth
If you’re at high risk for DVT, your doctor may recommend that you take blood-thinning medication or wear compression stockings – specially fitted stockings that promote blood flood from the legs back to the heart. These stockings must be properly fitted, so you should discuss the issue with your doctor.
“It’s important to see your doctor as soon as possible if you develop any symptoms of concern,” Dr. Alaigh said. “About half of all people have no symptoms at all. But those who do often have swelling, pain, tenderness, or red skin in the leg or affected part of the body. In the most serious cases, when DVT has caused the blood clot to travel to the lung, a person could have difficulty breathing, a rapid heart beat, chest pain or discomfort, lightheadedness or could be coughing up blood.
“Taking simple precautions can help prevent a potentially life-threatening condition and keep everyone healthy this holiday season,” Dr. Alaigh said.
For more information on DVT, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention web site at http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/dvt/faq_dvt.htm.
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