Spring break and Easter are around the corner and people are hitting the roads or the airways for some kind of getaway. Yet, these kinds of trips usually involve sitting in one position for an extended period of time and most people are not aware that it could cause the development of blood clots. It’s important to remember that during a long trip in the car or on an airplane, the urge to “stretch your legs” can do more than just ease aching muscles.
According to the American Heart Association, up to two million Americans are affected annually by DVT or “Deep Vein Thrombosis.” Yet, most Americans (74%) have little or no awareness of DVT, according to a national survey sponsored by the American Public Health Association. “All too often, people die of DVT complications without ever knowing they had the condition, or that they were at risk,” says Rafael Gonzalez, M.D., director of cardiology at Scott & White Healthcare – Round Rock. March is also DVT Awareness Month.
If you have travel plans this spring and summer, it’s important to know the risk factors for this preventable condition. Dr. Gonzalez explains that this condition occurs “when a blood clot forms in one of the large veins, usually in the lower limbs, leading to either partially or completely blocked circulation.”
Anyone can develop blood clots; however, certain people are more at risk, according to Dr. Gonzalez.
The primary risk factors for DVT include:
- Advanced age
- Restricted mobility due to acute medical illness, such as stroke, major surgery or respiratory failure
- Restricted mobility due to long-distance travel
- Patients undergoing major orthopedic surgery who remain immobile in bed after an operation
- Hormone Replacement Therapy
Most blood clots are a consequence of other medical problems, but they can also occur in everyday life. The following are some common causes of dangerous blood clots to look out for:
- Diminished blood flow caused by surgery, long drive or airplane flight, or lying in bed/sitting for a long time.
- Damage to the blood vessels caused by surgery or an injury
- Cancer or hereditary genes
“Blood clots can form in the arms and legs, however, a clot in the upper leg is most dangerous as it can travel to the heart and lungs causing a pulmonary embolism (PE),” explains Dr. Gonzalez. Symptoms of a large PE come on suddenly and include sharp chest pain, rapid heart rate, shortness of breath, even sudden death. In contrast, a smaller PE may not have symptoms or cause any major problems.
Treatment of blood clots can generally be performed at home with blood-thinning medications, such as Heparin™ and Coumadin™, and wearing elastic stockings for three to six months. However, the best prevention against developing blood clots includes:
- Informing your doctor of your risk if you are planning to undergo surgery or if you have an illness
- Breaking up long, sedentary trips with short walks
- Knowing your risk factors
- Knowing your family history
- Taking medications, such as low molecular weight Heparin and other anti-thrombotics, which are available for hospitalized patients