COVID-19 has put the kibosh on travel plans for some, but for others they are still going to hop in the car or get on an airplane and head over the river and through the woods to grandma’s house for holiday fun. While most will think to remember their iPad, pillows, books, etc. to keep them entertained and comfortable while they travel, they will probably never think about a serious condition called deep vein thrombosis (DVT) – a condition that can turn deadly very quickly.
Sitting for long periods of time in a car or a plane can cause blood clots to form in the deep vein of the lower legs and thighs. This clot is sneaky because it can travel through the blood stream undetected and park itself in the heart, lungs or brain, causing severe damage to the organs, and in some cases, death. Realizing this all sounds very scary, you can avoid DVT very easily by doing a few simple things, every couple of hours.
According to Khaled Khalaf, M.D., if you are traveling across the United States or overseas, it’s important that you get up and walk around every couple of hours and try not to fall asleep for longer than four hours at a time. Also, drink plenty of water or juices, wear loose-fitting clothing, eat light meals, and refrain from excessive amounts of alcohol.
“DVT usually occurs in people over the age of 60, but in some cases younger people with circulation issues can fall victim to it,” said Khalaf, an interventional and structural cardiologist affiliated with Memorial Hermann Northeast Hospital. “If you fall into one of these categories, it would be good to wear compression stockings. They are not the most attractive things to wear, but they will help prevent clots from forming in the deep veins.”
Also, there are a few easy exercises you can do while sitting down that will help keep everything moving:
- Extend both legs and move your feet back and forth in a circular motion.
- Move your knee to your chest and hold that stretch for 15 to 20 seconds.
- Put both feet on the floor and point your toes upward. You can also put both feet flat and lift both heels as high as possible.
“If you have DVT, you might experience pain, tenderness, swelling, redness and increased warmth in one of your legs,” Khalaf said. “It might help to take an aspirin before you travel or, in some cases, your doctor might put you on blood thinners.”
Khalaf says, however, in some cases blood thinners alone might not be the answer to break up a clot. Memorial Hermann Northeast Hospital recently began offering a new procedure that can remove blood clots from the leg to decrease pain and swelling and lessen the risk of clot development. Khalaf says a small incision is made in the skin and then a device, which resembles a fishing net, is deployed into the vein to capture and remove a clot. He says this could work in concert with blood thinners to prevent clots from reforming.
“Some 500,000 Americans develop blood clots every year and some have to endure long stays in the hospital,” Khalaf said. “Be aware of what is going on with your body when you travel this holiday season and, if you experience any symptoms of DVT, see a doctor as soon as possible.”