Dr. Campbell: Preventing Deep Vein Thrombosis during the holiday travel season

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – During the holidays many Americans travel long distances to be with family and friends—this can mean prolonged sitting in cars, buses, trains or planes.

These prolonged periods of travel can put you at risk for developing a particular type of blood clot known as a Deep Vein Thrombosis or DVT.

Deep vein thrombosis or DVT describes a condition in which a blood clot forms within the blood vessels that are located in the deep circulation—typically in the veins in the legs.

Veins are the blood vessels that drain blood back to the heart in order to be oxygenated in the lungs. Blood clots often form when blood is allowed to pool in the extremities for long periods of time such as with prolonged sitting or extended periods of lying in bed (for example, after surgery). Sitting still for more than four hours at one time can put you at increased risk for DVT. Once you have been sitting for a prolonged period of time, your risk for forming DVT may persist for several weeks afterwards.

Other risk factors for DVT include prior blood clots, recent surgery, pregnancy, cancer, and certain medicines such as oral contraceptives and hormone replacement medications. The American Heart Association estimates that 1 in 1000 people develop DVT each year.

Symptoms of DVT include swelling and warmth or redness in the leg or calf. In some cases, patients develop pain in the calf that is worse when standing or walking. This is particularly alarming if it is associated with redness and swelling. DVTs may not be apparent right after travel but often appear after the trip is over in the weeks following the travel.

DVTs can be very serious. The most serious complications of DVT can be a Pulmonary Embolus or PE. In the case of a PE, a piece of the blood clot in the vein can break off and go through the circulation into the lungs. If the clot lodges in the lungs it can prevent circulation through the lungs and can result in death if not treated quickly.

If you think you have developed a DVT you should seek medical help immediately. If you develop shortness or breath or pain in the chest with breathing you should call 911 and seek emergency help—this could indicate that the blood clot has travelled to the lungs and a PE has occurred.

Here are some simple tips to help prevent DVT during your holiday travel:

  1. If travelling by car, stop every hour and get out and walk around. If on a plane, try to get up and walk every 30 minutes if possible.
  2. Avoid alcohol, caffeine and other substances that may produce dehydration. Drink plenty of fluids – preferably water.
  3. While sitting on the plane or in the car, try to raise your toes and flex your calves every 20 minutes. This motion causes your calf muscles to contract and promotes the flow of blood in the veins in the legs. This can help prevent blood from pooling and forming a clot.
  4. If you have risk factors for DVT, you may want to consider talking with your physician before travelling to obtain compression stockings for your legs. If you have had a previous blood clot, you may need to take blood thinners.

Travel is a part of the holidays. It is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of DVT and understand what your risk may be. By performing simple exercises at your seat and taking care to walk and stretch several times during your trip, you will be more likely to avoid this common travel related malady.

To get in touch with Dr. Campbell, you can head to his website, Facebook page or message him on Twitter.

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