Facts, Myths and Tips on Deep Vein Thrombosis
There has been a lot of information in the news about blood clots (deep vein thrombosis), typically in the legs. Here are some facts about clots and how to prevent them.
- A Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) occurs when blood clots in the deep veins of the arms and legs.
- A clot that passes up the blood vessels and through the heart can become lodged in one of the small blood vessels supplying the lungs. When the clot is small, this may slightly reduce the amount of oxygen in the blood. However, when the clot is larger, it can cut off the oxygen supply to the body. This potentially fatal condition is known as a Pulmonary Embolism (PE).
- Some people have a greater risk of deep vein thrombosis. The greatest risk is among those people who have had a previous DVT or PE. Other people with an elevated risk of blood clots include people who have had a recent injuries or surgeries to their extremity, pregnant women, women taking birth control, anyone over the age of 40, those with cardiovascular disease (such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol or a previous heart attack or stroke), or people who have family members who have had a DVT or PE.
- Staying still for longer periods, such as during plane flights or car rides, slows the blood flow from the legs back to the heart, which increases the danger of blood clots.
- It is not clear by how much traveling increases the risk of DVT, because there has been little research. Previously, a government-commissioned report estimated the risk was ‘exceedingly small’ for healthy people. However, anecdotal reports from doctors working in hospitals near airports suggest as many as 300 people per year die because they had a DVT when flying.
- Travelers can avoid blood clots by flying in first or business class. The press has dubbed the DVT as the “economy class syndrome”, but passengers in first class and business class can also get blood clots in their legs
- Deep vein thrombosis is only a risk for long-haul travelers. This is not true. Blood clots can form in the legs even on journeys as short as three hours.
- People who drive or take the bus or train are not at risk for a DVT. Studies have linked blood clots to long journeys made by all means of transport. Travelers using all modes of transportation should take steps to minimize their risk of DVT by following the tips below.
Tips & Recommendations
- The best way to minimize the risk of a DVT or PE is to reduce the amount of immobilization to your legs. Standing and walking are all helpful ways to keep the blood moving in your legs.
- While seated, exercise the calf muscles every 10 to 15 minutes by flexing and rotating the ankles. The best exercise is either to keep your heels on the floor and lift the rest of your foot up, or to deep the balls of your feet on the floor and lift your heels up. Repeating this motion at least 10 times.
- Wear support stockings during longer trips to reduce the risk of clots. Get knee-high stockings, preferably the highest compression that you can buy without a doctor’s prescription. These may be purchased at a pharmacy or medical supply store. Look for the word “graduated” or gradient” on the packaging, as these stockings will help your body move the blood out of your legs more quickly.
- For those who have had an injury or surgery to their extremities, a DVT or PE in the past, or those who have a family history of blood clots, ask your doctor if you should take a medication to minimize the risk of blood clots.
- If you notice swelling in one leg, pain in your calf that worsens as you walk, shortness of breath or pain in your chest when you take a deep breath, you may have developed a DVT or PE and urgent examination by a physician may be important.
The information above is meant solely as a guide. If you are in any doubt about its recommendations, or views, please consult your physician.