Immobilization can lead to DVT.One thing that‘s most likely NOT on your holiday wish list this year is Deep Venous Thrombosis (DVT), but if you are going to be traveling for any significant period of time, you are at risk for developing one.

Regardless of your age or physical health, you are susceptible to these blood clots that form in the large veins well below the skin’s surface. The Quasi’s Bell Tower blog recounts the experiences of one young, healthy American student who suffered through DVT last year in Romania. Generally, DVT occurs in the leg and if it stays there, you should be ok.

However, a DVT can break off, completely or in pieces, and travel through your body up to your lungs. Once in your lungs, this condition is identified as a pulmonary embolus (PE) and could result in death. Immobilization of any kind raises your risk of developing DVT — this includes immobilization on an airplane, in a car, etc. Other factors that can raise the risk of DVT include regular smoking, obesity, pregnancy, use of birth control pills, dehydration, recent surgery or other medical problems requiring hospitalization, certain types of cancer or heart disease, and structural abnormalities of the veins.

Some people are genetically predisposed to blood clots — so your family history is important–and senior travelers may also be at higher risk. Symptoms of a DVT often include leg pain or tenderness, redness, or swelling. Symptoms of a PE often include chest pain, shortness of breath, and cough (sometimes with blood-tinged sputum). If you are planning a long trip, follow these tips:

  1. Get up, stretch and/or walk around every 60 minutes or so. Request an aisle seat so it’s easier to do so. Bulkheads and exit rows also provide more leg space and easier entry/exit. If you can, elevate your legs intermittently during the flight.
  2. Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration (coffee and alcoholic beverages don’t count!)
  3. Move around and exercise in your seat, making sure the seat presses up against a different part of your legs every once in a while. Don’t cross your legs for prolonged periods of time.
  4. Medical Grade support stockings can be helpful and don’t require a lot of effort to either obtain or to use — ask your doctor or pharmacist.

If you develop any symptoms of a DVT, persistent leg pain, redness or swelling, or symptoms of a PE, shortness of breath, cough or chest discomfort, seek immediate medical attention. If you’ve had a DVT or a PE in the past you’re more likely to get one again in the future. And, keep in mind– the longer the flight or the car trip, the higher the risk.


Image by: exonumia / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0


About The Author

Frank Gillingham, M.D. serves as Chief Medical Director for HTH Worldwide. Frank has led HTH Worldwide's international business development efforts in Europe and Canada and has been a guest speaker at international business conferences and has authored a series of articles on travel medicine, including pieces on travel information available on the Internet and the role of physicians working with travel insurers. Frank is a Board-Certified Internist and Emergency Medicine Specialist. He is also a private emergency physician in Southern California and a former emergency department director and member of the UCLA emergency department staff. Frank completed residency training at Los Angeles County/USC Medical Center, received his M.D. from Albert Einstein College of Medicine and his B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania .

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