The sitting disease could affect you as a traveler. But what is it, and how can you prevent it?
Wanderlust explorers and frequent business travelers oddly enough are likely to fall prey to deep vein thrombosis (DVT), the sitting disease. DVT is a blood clot that is most often found in the deep veins of a person’s legs. While no clot is a good clot, DVT becomes even more dangerous if the clot breaks. Once broken off, this piece of clot can travel upwards and block arteries in the lungs; this is known as a pulmonary embolism (PE). If not treated, PE can be fatal. To protect ourselves during long stints of travel, here are four important things that you should know about deep vein thrombosis.
1. How does frequent sitting increase your risk of DVT?
Sitting immobile for several hours significantly increases your risk of DVT as your blood flow becomes slow and sluggish without active movement. While frequent travelers might appear to be all hustle and bustle, there is a lot of sitting when traveling. You sit for the majority of your flight or bus trip and depending on the layovers or scheduled delays, you might find yourself sitting in the airport or station for several hours as well. This sedentary time really adds up and leaves many long-distance travelers at risk for blood clots.
2. What are some other common risk factors that could increase your risk?
As a frequent flyer, your chances of a DVT are already much higher than a non-traveler, but there are other factors that can increase your risk even more. For example, someone who carries extra weight on their body – this could be a woman who is pregnant or a man who is obese or overweight – will have an increased chance of developing DVT. This extra weight on the body puts more weight and pressure on the pelvis and lower extremities which can slow blood flow. Other common risk factors of DVT include:
- If you have a hereditary blood-clotting disorder, your blood might be thicker or more prone to clotting. A condition like this could lead to DVT if exacerbated by the sedentary hours of frequent travel.
- Age is another risk factor for DVT; the older you get, the greater your risk. Older adults also have a high risk of stroke, heart disease, high blood pressure and atrial fibrillation which can increase your chances of DVT.
- Many smokers have high blood pressure because the nicotine in cigarettes constricts the blood vessels. This not only leaves a smoker with a higher chance of a heart attack but also puts them at risk for DVT.
- Women who take a hormonal birth control or who are undergoing hormone therapy have an increased risk for DVT.
- Typically after a knee surgery or a surgery on the lower extremities, your doctor will take precautions against blood clots because your risk is increased.
- If you have a history of blood clots or your family’s medical history has incidents of blood clots, you have a higher chance of developing DVT.
3. What are symptoms of DVT?
If you have an increased risk of developing a blood clot because of frequent travel or another risk factor, it is important that you know what the symptoms are for both DVT and PE. Someone with DVT may experience concentrated warmth along the leg, cramping in the calves, red or discolored skin, and swelling in their leg, ankle, foot, or along a vein. They might also experience pain or tenderness in their leg or foot either while walking or standing.
It is important to know, however, that not everyone with DVT experience these symptoms, which can make it incredibly difficult to diagnose before it worsens. This is why it is important to know the symptoms of a pulmonary embolism as well. Many cases of DVT are only diagnosed after a patient is being treated for PE. Symptoms of PE include shortness of breath, rapid breathing, coughing or coughing up blood, an irregular heart rate, increased anxiety, extreme lightheadedness, and low blood pressure. If you experience any of the symptoms, especially while traveling, it is imperative that you seek medical attention immediately. If not treated, a pulmonary embolism can be fatal.
4. How can a frequent flyer prevent DVT?
For most people who travel frequently or are long-distance travelers, limiting travel isn’t an option or a choice that they would willingly make. There are, however, other preventative methods that travelers can utilize to reduce their risk.
- Move! Every two to three hours, you should get up and move around. It can be difficult when on a packed plane or bus to climb around your neighbor and walk the aisles, but movement is key to preventing blood from pooling in your limbs.
- If you can’t move, try leg exercises that you can do from your seat. Circle your ankles, flex and extend your knees, and lift your legs. Here is a great list of chair exercises to consult before your next trip.
- If you have a medical condition that increases your likelihood of blood clots, take your prescribed preventative medications before you travel. For example, someone with atrial fibrillation has a high risk of blood clots because their heart is beating irregularly giving their blood time to pool and clot; these patients typically take a heart-regulating medication with a blood thinner to prevent future clots. Patients taking risky medications, like blood thinners, should also know the risks and adverse side effects associated with their medication when traveling long distances.
- Another recommended practice for people with a high risk of DVT or blood clots is to wear compression stockings or socks. These socks are designed with graduated compression meaning the sock is only tight where you need it to be, generally around the feet. This promotes healthy blood flow in your legs when you are sitting for long periods of time, and it prevents blood from pooling in your legs or feet.
Guest Author: Caitlin Hoff, Healthy & Safety Investigator at ConsumerSafety.org
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