DVT is a condition in which blood clots form in the deep veins of the lower legs and thighs. Sitting for long periods of time, either in an airplane or a car, can limit circulation in the legs, leading to a blood clot forming in a vein. The clot can travel unnoticed through the blood stream and lodge in the brain, lungs, heart or other areas causing severe damage to organs, and in some cases, death. The good news is that there are easy ways to avoid the problem.
"If you are traveling overseas or cross country, make sure to get up and walk around at least every two hours, and try not to sleep more than four hours at a time," said Dr. Alan Lumsden, a vascular surgeon with the Methodist DeBakey Heart Center in Houston. "You should also drink plenty of water or juices, wear loose-fitting clothing, eat light meals, and limit your alcohol consumption."
If a person does not have the ability to get up every couple of hours and walk around, the following exercises can be done while sitting down:
• Extend both legs and move both feet back and forth in a circular motion.
• Move the knee up to the chest and hold the stretch for at least 15 seconds.
• Put both feet flat on the floor and point them upward. Also, put both feet flat and lift both heels as high as possible.
DVT is most often found in people over age 60, but can occur in any age group. Symptoms include pain and tenderness, swelling, redness and increased warmth in one leg.
"In some cases, a physician might suggest that a patient go on blood thinners or simply take an aspirin before and during a long trip to avoid the problem," Lumsden said.
If you are pregnant, have a history of heart disease, cancer or blood clots, you should always consult with a physician before taking a long flight.
"The last thing we think about when we are taking a long trip to a fun destination or to see family for the holidays is DVT," Lumsden said. "However, it is a serious condition that can be avoided if you simply get up and move around during your flight or long car ride."