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:
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.
- 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
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
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
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
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
- 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.