Deep-Vein Thrombosis
Chester J. Zelasko, Ph.D. | January 27, 2004

If you do any flying, you'll notice that all the airline magazines have a section on deep-vein thrombosis or DVT for short. DVT is the production of blood clots in the legs that can cause problems in the legs, and if they break free and move, in the lungs. It's also been called "Economy Class Syndrome" because of the lack of legroom in the economy section of the airplane. Actually, it's not the legroom that's the problem--it's the lack of movement. The magazines give leg exercises that you can do to prevent pooling of blood in the legs, a contributing factor to the clots.

Should you be concerned? Only if you let yourself get dehydrated and don't move around the plane on coast-to-coast or overseas trips that last several hours. Most people try to avoid drinking fluids so they don't have to use the bathroom--especially if they have a window seat. That's a mistake, because the blood gets thicker and can clot more easily if you don't move. Drink fluids--especially non-alcoholic fluids--and practice saying "Excuse me" to your fellow passengers, but get up and move around.

When it comes to DVT, flying maybe the least of your problems. Researchers recently surveyed over 5,000 patients with DVT confirmed by ultrasound (1) to determine the characteristics of people with DVT. Of those with DVT:
  • 50% had hypertension
  • 38% had surgery within the past 3 months
  • 34% were immobile within past 30 days due to illness
  • 32% had cancer
  • 27% were obese
It's important to note that this is not a cause and effect relationship, i.e., cancer does not cause DVT. It simply gives you the characteristics of the people who develop DVT.

What this research clearly shows is that lifestyle can be an important contributing factor to DVT. Obesity and hypertension are both related to the lifestyle choices we make. Further, we all get sidelined sooner or later with a disease or surgery. The important thing is to focus on the rehabilitation to speed the recovery.

While there are no absolute recommendations to prevent DVT, here are some general guidelines.

Drink one-half your body weight in ounces of water or other fluids every day. This prevents the blood from getting too thick--a contributing factor to clots.

Exercise--the muscles act as a pump. Every time you contract the muscles, it forces blood back to your heart preventing pooling and clotting. That's why rehabilitation after surgery or injury is so important.

Control hypertension by taking your medications and changing your lifestyle.

Lose weight. It's not easy and you don't have to do it all at once, but getting your weight under control will help with many potential health challenges.

Take any blood-thinning medications your physician recommends, especially after surgery or a long time off your feet due to an injury. You may not have to take it forever, but it's important until your body fully recovers.


Deep-vein thrombosis is a real threat because it can lead to death. Do all that you can to reduce the risk by adopting a healthy lifestyle. When faced with a health challenge, work hard to recover and get back on your feet. As I've said many times, your health is mostly in your hands. Don't drop the ball.

References:

  1. Goldhaber SZ, Tapson VF. A prospective registry of 5,451 patients with ultrasound-confirmed deep-vein thrombosis. Am J Cardiol. 2004 Jan 15; 93(2): 259-62.
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