A health alert cautions travelers to be aware of blood clots, as those who spend a lot of time on the road or in the air could be at high risk for serious complications.
Whether you're driving or flying to your summer getaway, chances are you spend a lot of time sitting. However, stay still too long and you could be setting yourself up for developing a blood clot.
"Blood clots can form anywhere in the body, said Dr. Paul Perkowski, a vascular surgeon. "They're most commonly seen in the veins in the legs, called Deep Vein Thrombosis or DVT."
Perkowski explained clots can result from a triad of factors: immobility, damage to the vein wall and a propensity for the blood to clot. The doctor added any number of things can contribute to those factors, including medication or obesity. Once a DVT forms, it can interrupt blood flow and cause painful damage the limb, sometimes resulting in an amputation. A clot in the leg can also dislodge and travel to the heart and into the lungs. This is called a pulmonary embolism and it can be fatal.
Symptoms of DVT include swelling, tenderness and warmth on the skin. Perkowski said a patient may also notice pain when flexing or moving the foot. Symptoms of a pulmonary embolism include shortness of breath, chest pain and cough. There are several treatments for blood clots, including medication and, in severe cases, using a catheter to break up the blockage. Treatment is tailored to the patient, depending on the severity of the clot.
At this point in the story, I usually introduce a patient who has firsthand knowledge. In this case, the patient happens to be my mother, Sylvia. In April, my mother and I traveled to Paris. Exhausted from the whirlwind trip, we went to sleep as soon as we boarded the plane home and didn't move the entire nine-hour flight.
After returning home, mom complained of fatigue and shortness of breath. A few weeks later, she collapsed at home. When the ambulance arrived, her blood pressure and oxygen levels were both dangerously low. At the emergency room, she was immediately diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism. Fortunately, she was quickly treated with clot busting medicine delivered through a catheter directly onto the clots in her lungs. I am very happy to say that she will make a full recovery.
Dr. Perkowski didn't handle my mother's case, but when I explained what led up to her collapse, he wasn't surprised.
"There is an entity called a traveler's clot," said Perkowski, who explained that many of the DVT cases he treats involves travelers.
In fact, the surgeon said DVT is more common than heart disease, with hundreds of thousands of cases diagnosed each year. He added frequent travelers should take precautions to reduce their risk.
"Stay hydrated. If you're sitting in a position, then get up once an hour to walk the aisle in the airplane or get up to stretch the muscles in the legs," Perkowski advised.
He said the same applies when traveling in a car or even if you sit for a long time throughout the day.
If you experience any symptoms of DVT, you should contact your doctor, especially if you have a history of blood clots.
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