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Discussing Deep Vein Thrombosis with Dr. Jennifer Heller

January 2, 2018
How getting up and moving can make travel safer

We’ve all been there. Tucked a little too snugly into a seat on a plane, train, or automobile for hours. And while the thing you notice most in that situation is your discomfort, there’s something else you should be aware of. Long periods of sitting still, whether while traveling or recovering from an illness, can significantly increase your risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), blood clots in the leg veins that can break free and travel to the lungs, causing a potentially fatal pulmonary embolism. Dr. Jennifer Heller, director of the Vein Center at GBMC, and ABC2 Good Morning Maryland host Ashley James talked about what increases your risk of DVT, steps you can take to lower that risk, and the signs that might mean you have DVT.

“DVT is a very common condition,” says Dr. Heller. “About one in 1,000 Americans will have DVT during their lifetime and the risk goes up for travelers. Three to 5% of travelers are affected by the condition. You’re more at risk if you’re 40 or older, have congestive heart failure or inflammatory bowel disease, are overweight, take birth control pills, or are pregnant. If you’re traveling 4 or more hours, you also have an increased risk of developing blood clots in the deep veins of your legs. The best way to combat that is getting up and walking around every 30 minutes and staying hydrated by drinking water. If you can’t do that, calf raises that flex your muscles can also help keep the blood pumping to your heart and prevent it from pooling in the veins in your legs.”

Dr. Heller explained that your efforts to prevent DVT should start with a visit to your primary care physician to rule out any underlying conditions that could increase your risk. Getting regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight are also important. You can also ask your doctor whether compression stockings could help lower your risk while traveling.

What signs of DVT should you watch for? “If you have any new pain or ache in your leg that you can’t pinpoint the cause for, if there’s an area of warmth or tenderness on your leg, or sudden swelling in the leg, call your doctor immediately or go to the ER if it’s after hours,” adds Dr. Heller. “The signs of pulmonary embolism are also important to know. They include shortness of breath, chest pain, and a cough. See a doctor right away if you have these symptoms.”
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