Understanding Deep Vein Thrombosis
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) can affect anyone who sits for long stretches of time – office workers, road warriors, business travelers, and even those who are in bed rest while recovering from surgery.
DVT is generally associated with frequent travelers – especially airline travelers – because the confined spaces of a plane are difficult to move around in, creating an optimal environment for this condition to develop.
Deep vein thrombosis is a condition where blood clots form in the deep veins of the body. Deep veins are located away from the surface of the skin. DVT becomes dangerous if a piece of the clot breaks free and travels to the lungs, causing a potentially fatal condition known as a pulmonary embolism.
Blood clots are part of the body’s healing process. They help stop bleeding from cuts and open wounds. However, clots can form for other reasons. Damaged veins, slow blood flow, and any problem with the blood which makes it clot more easily. Clots in deep veins cause the blood flow to slow and the vein to swell.
Deep vein thrombosis usually affects the legs, but can occur in any deep vein throughout the body.
Symptoms of Deep Vein Thrombosis
Identifying the symptoms of deep vein thrombosis can be tricky. Some people with DVT may not experience any signs or symptoms at all.
Symptoms of DVT include:
- Swelling of the affected limb
- Sudden pain and tenderness
- Pain while standing or walking
- Skin redness
- Skin warmth
It’s important to visit your doctor if you think you may have deep vein thrombosis. Taking steps to prevent a pulmonary embolism may save your life.
What is a Pulmonary Embolism?
A pulmonary embolism occurs when a piece of material – usually a blood clot, but can be other substances – lodges in an artery within the lungs. The section of lung which is supplied by the artery may die, making it more difficult for your lungs to provide enough oxygen for your body.
It is uncommon for a person to have a single pulmonary embolism. Instead, multiple clots compound on each other and cause damage over time.
Symptoms of Pulmonary Embolism:
- Sudden chest pain which worsens when bending or stooping, and does not go away with rest
- Unexplained shortness of breath
- Cough, especially if it produces blood
- Leg or calf pain
- Irregular or rapid heartbeat
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Pain in the ribs while breathing
- Burning, aching, or heavy feeling in the chest
A pulmonary embolism can be life threatening. If you experience symptoms of a pulmonary embolism, contact 9-1-1 immediately.
Who is Most At Risk of Developing DVT?
Anyone who sits for long stretches of time without moving can develop DVT. This includes long-distance drivers, office workers, and those are in bed rest following surgery.
Risk Factors for DVT Include:
- Age (over 40)
- Limited mobility
- Estrogen use (including contraceptives and hormone therapy)
- Recent surgery
- Certain illnesses (including inflammatory bowel disease and heart failure, among others)
- Thrombophilia (one of several diseases which prevents blood from clotting properly)
Having one or more risk factors increases the chance of developing DVT. Most people without risk factors have a low chance of developing DVT.
Preventing Deep Vein Thrombosis
Whether you are a frequent traveler, at your desk all day, or recovering from surgery, you can prevent deep vein thrombosis by changing up your routine.
Ways to Prevent DVT:
- Stretch frequently
- Get up and move regularly (if you are able)
- Stay hydrated
- Wear loose fitting clothing while travelling
- Wear compression socks while travelling
Exercises to Prevent Deep Vein Thrombosis
Whether you are in the car, on a plane, at the office, or at home after surgery, you can take steps to prevent deep vein thrombosis from developing. Your ideal in-seat workout targets as many of your sedentary limbs as space will allow. When on a long plane flight, even just standing and stretching your legs in the aisle will help prevent DVT!
- Roll your neck: Relax your shoulders. Let your head rest on one shoulder. Slowly roll your head forward and over onto the other shoulder. Reverse directions, and repeat at least five times.
- Stretch your upper body: Raise both arms over your head. Grasp one wrist with your hand and slowly stretch upwards as far as you can without pain. Hold for fifteen seconds. Slowly release, then repeat with the other arm.
- Rotate your ankles: Lift your feet 4 – 6 inches off the floor and stretch out your toes away from you. Rotate your toes clockwise five times, counterclockwise five times, then repeat. You can also do this exercise one foot at a time, or with your feet simultaneously rotating in opposite directions.
- Lift your knees: Lean forward slightly and lift your knee towards your chest. Grab your knee with your hands folded together and pull your knee as close to your chest as you can without pain. Hold for fifteen seconds. Slowly release, then repeat with your other knee.
By being proactive and reducing your risk factors for deep vein thrombosis, you can prevent a potentially life-threatening condition. These simple exercises are just a few of the many options to prevent DVT while in transit or in recovery!