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Preventing Blood Clots While Sitting or Traveling

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Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), is caused when blood clots occur in the deep veins of the legs (and sometimes in the arms). DVT can be life-threatening, and people who travel are at a greater risk, due to the amount of time spent sitting. Anyone spends more than 3-4 hours travelling, regardless as to whether they travel by means airplane or ground transportation, should be aware of the risk of DVT (blood clots).
Basically, the longer your body is immobile, the higher the risk of blood clots. But travelers are especially at risk, because they sit in restrictive seating, often in the same position, for hours at a time. Without proper movement, or when one’s sitting position cuts off or inhibits circulation in the legs (especially if legs are crossed), blood clots can occur in the deep veins.
The deep veins are located in the interior of the body, such as the femoral vein, tibial veins, ulnar and fibial veins, etc. These are not visible to the eye, as may be the superficial veins that are located closer to the skin’s surface. When you get varicose veins or spider veins, these veins become more visible due to blood pooling in the area where a venous valve has become faulty. Treating spider veins and varicose veins is usually simple and painless, due to their location near the skin.

Back to blood clots in the deep veins. While these clots can sometimes dissolve or break up on their own, the real risk is that the clot gets carried away from legs back toward the lungs (for oxygenation), where it may clog or block a pulmonary artery. This prevents blood flow to the lungs, which is life-threatening. It helps to take precautions against blood clots while traveling or sitting for long periods, and to know the symptoms.

In addition to extended sitting, several risk factors may increase the likelihood of a blood clot.
Even if you travel a long distance, the risk of developing a blood clot is generally very small. Your level of risk depends on the duration of travel as well as whether you have any other risks for blood clots. Most people who develop travel-associated blood clots have one or more other risks for blood clots, such as:

 

Risk factors:
• Varicose veins: if varicose veins are left untreated, circulation in that area will be less than if the varicose veins had been treated
• Age: risk increases after age 45
• Obesity: excess weight places a strain on the circulatory system
• Recent surgery or injury involving deep bruising, stiches or bleeding.
• Periods of immobility or bed rest
• Hormone use, especially estrogen, for such uses as birth control or hormone replacement
• Pregnancy or recent childbirth (due to increased pressure in the veins)
• Previous blood clot or a family history of blood clots
• Smoking (inhibits circulation)
• Chemotherapy treatments

What are the symptoms of DVT?
While a deep vein blood clot may occur with no detectable symptoms, when symptoms are present, one might notice swelling, tenderness, feverish skin, feeling of fatigue in the affected limb, redness, visibly swollen veins in the affected limb.
If you have any of these symptoms, seek emergency medical care immediately.

If DVT reaches the lungs and causes a Pulmonary Embolism, the following symptoms may appear.
Symptoms of a Pulmonary Embolism may include:
1. Feeling faint or dizzy
2. Difficulty breathing
3. Accelerated (and possibly irregular) heartbeat
4. Chest pain
5. Sudden coughing with blood or blood in mucous
If you have any of these symptoms, seek emergency medical care immediately.

 

How to prevent DVT while traveling or sitting for long periods
Get up and move around as much as possible.
If you can’t get up, move your arms and legs. Change positions, stretch, flex and release the muscles in your arms and legs. Point and flex the toes, move the ankles in a circular motion, raise and lower the legs, make a pumping motion with your feet. Alternate raising your knees to your chest. For arms, roll your shoulders, flex and release your biceps, make wrist circles, raise and lower arms.

Thanks for reading! Stay informed, stay safe, and happy travels.

Please visit us on the web at www.sandiegovascularcenter.com for more information, or to schedule a consultation. Our team of board certified vascular doctors treat all conditions of the vascular system, from varicose vein treatment and spider vein treatment, to wound care and more serious vascular diseases.

 

Reference
1Gavish I, Brenner B. Air travel and the risk of thromboembolism. Internal and Emergency Medicine 2011 Apr;6(2):113-6.

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