Are You at Risk of Deep Vein Thrombosis and Pulmonary Embolism?2 min read
If you’re a frequent traveler, you probably already know traveling can pose some risks to your health. Despite your best efforts, you may experience jet lag, expose yourself to germs in airports and on planes, and, depending on your destination, have a higher risk of food borne illness.
But, frequent and long-distance travelers are at risk for another health issue: deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism.
DVT happens when a blood clot forms in one or more of the deep veins in your body, usually in your legs. It can cause leg pain or swelling, but it may also occur without any symptoms at all.
This is a serious health condition. The blood clots in your veins have the ability to break loose, travel through your bloodstream and lodge in your lungs. When this happens, it blocks the flow of blood to your lungs, which is pulmonary embolism. More specifically, pulmonary embolism is when one or more of the pulmonary arteries in your lungs become blocked by a blood clot.
Commons signs of pulmonary embolism include shortness of breath, chest pain and a cough. The chest pain feels as though you’re having a heart attack – the pain may feel worse when you breathe deeply, cough, eat, bend or stoop. A cough associated with pulmonary embolism may be bloody.
Some other symptoms that can occur include leg pain and/or swelling, clammy or discolored skin, excessive sweating, rapid or irregular heartbeat, lightheadedness or dizziness.
Almost anyone can have DVT. People who travel for extended periods of time can have an increased risk for this condition since they have limited movement during their time on a plane. Most people who develop travel-related DVT have other risk factors, including clotting history, a recent surgery or injury, older age or obesity.
Although DVT and pulmonary embolism can be fatal, immediate medical treatment can reduce the risk of death. And, there are some things you can do to prevent these conditions before they become an issue.
Long distance travelers should get up every hour and walk around. You should also avoid crossing your legs – this can limit blood flow in your legs.
If for some reason you can’t get up and walk around on your flight, you should try to exercise your calf muscles and stretch your legs while you’re sitting. Raise and lower your heels while keeping your toes on the floor. Then raise and lower your toes while keeping your heels on the floor. And then tighten and release your leg muscles.
If and when it’s possible, select an aisle seat on your flight – you’ll have more leg room.
If you have additional risk factors for DVT and pulmonary embolism, you should have a discussion with your doctor about some other precautions you should take, including wearing compression stockings or taking medication.