As summer vacation rapidly approaches, many of us are planning to travel on commercial aircraft. It has long been known that, with air travel, there is a risk of forming blood clots in the legs, a condition called deep vein thrombosis. Fortunately, this is not very common during travel, but there are other situations that place a patient at risk for DVT that I will also discuss.
The major problem associated with DVT is that part or all of a clot may come loose and travel to the heart and, from there, directly to the lungs. This is called a pulmonary embolism, and it can be very serious and sometimes fatal. It is estimated that about 350,000 Americans a year are affected by DVT or pulmonary embolism.
Certain factors can make one more prone to this condition:
– Sitting for long periods of time, such as when driving or, especially, flying
– Prolonged bed rest, such as during hospital stays or chronic illness at home
– Recent surgery or injury involving major broken bones
– Blood clotting disorders
– A history of DVT
– Cigarette smoking
Symptoms of DVT may include swelling in a leg (usually only one is involved); leg pain, usually in the calf; and redness or warmth over the problem area.
Symptoms of pulmonary embolism are unexplained shortness of breath or chest pain; a feeling of light-headedness or dizziness; and coughing up blood.
For most healthy adults, DVT is very rare. If you feel that you are at risk, or to prevent a recurrent episode, consider the following:
– Take precautions while traveling. Stay well hydrated with nonalcoholic drinks. Take hourly breaks from sitting to walk around, or at least exercise your calf muscles while seated.
– Make healthy changes, such as losing weight and stopping smoking.
– Follow the instructions from your doctor if you have recently had surgery or a serious illness.