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DVT – A Travellers Game of Russian Roulette

Are you playing Russian roulette with your health?

You may have the guts to play Russian roulette with live rounds; however, guns and travel do not mix!

If you decided (in a moment of insanity) to play the game with the classic seven-shot Nagant M1895 Revolver your chance of an instant and bloody death would be 14%, a gamble that very few of us would consider.

If you are a long haul traveler (trips over 4 hours in duration) on planes, trains or automobiles you might be playing an equally dangerous game – without even knowing it.

The deadly game I am referring to is Deep Vein Thrombosis.

What is Deep Vein Thrombosis?

DVT is when a blood clot forms in the deep veins, usually in the legs or pelvis. Without proper treatment, these clots can dislodge and end up somewhere else – like your lungs, known as a Pulmonary Embolism (PE).

A Pulmonary Embolism can block the blood supply to the heart resulting in lack of oxygen to the body as well as heart damage (pulmonary hypertension). Pulmonary Embolisms are FRICKEN SCARY – they can be fatal – the first symptom in approximately 15% of cases is sudden death. That is like playing Russian roulette with a live round!

As a traveler I was aware of Deep Vein Thrombosis but had never really given the issue any thought – they happen to other people. That is until I found myself in the emergency room with a doctor explaining that I had a life threatening condition.

Here are the facts:

The Center for Disease Control and prevention provide the following statistics:

  • It is estimated that between 300,000 and 600,000 people develop Deep Vein Thrombosis each year in the US
  • It is estimated that 60,000 to 100,000 Americans die from Deep Vein Thrombosis / Pulmonary Embolisms each year

Of these people:

  • 10 to 30% die within one month
  • Sudden death occurs in 25% of Pulmonary Embolism cases
  • In 33% of DVT/PE cases, a recurrence will happen within 10 years

What are the risk factors for DVTs?

Family History – there are various factors in the blood clotting process that may be affected by genetic problems (Approximately 5 to 8% of Americans have a genetic risk factor for developing blood clots).

Elevated clotting factors – having increased levels of one or more factors can increase the risk of a blood clot.

Medical conditions can also increase the risk, such as:

  • Pregnancy and postpartum
  • Cancer and cancer treatments
  • Heart, Lung, Kidney or Liver disease
  • Medications such as birth control pills or hormone replacement
  • Crohn’s disease or colitis

Surgical and related conditions – surgical procedures, especially those involving the hip, pelvis or knee increase the risk of developing a clot. During the recovery period, the risk continues because the person is less active.

As an otherwise fit and healthy traveler, it is important to understand that the enforced inactivity during long trips can increase a person’s risk of developing a blood clot.

Preventing blood clots during travel

The following tips may help reduce the risk of developing blood clots:

Get up and walk around every 2 to 3 hours.

Wear loose-fitting clothes.

Refrain from restricting your mobility by storing baggage at your feet.

Move your legs as much as possible during long haul trips, exercising helps to improve the flow of blood.

Perform leg exercises by:

  • Raising and lowering your heels with your toes on the floor
  • Raising and lowering your toes with your heels on the floor
  • Tightening and relaxing your leg muscles

You can reduce the risk of DVT’s by living an active lifestyle, keeping a healthy weight and if applicable quit smoking.

Talk to your Doctor – if you are at higher risk you may require graduated compression stockings or even blood thinners when you travel.

Resources for more information:

Yellow Book chapter on DVT and travel

Clot Connect

World Health Organization

Take it from me prevention is better than the cure!

Deep Vein Thrombosis Russian Roulette

About the author: Apparently born under a wandering star, Michael spent hours as a kid poring over maps, atlases and plotting where he wanted to travel when he grew up. Sadly Engineering school got in the way….. “it takes 5 years to complete and a lot longer to get over”. He still considers himself a “recovering” Professional Engineer. He escaped the rat race at 44 and now pursues his passions for travel, photography, Tai chi, scuba diving, cooking and sampling the world’s wines. Michael is also… Fiercely independent, a bit of a rebel, is on a self-imposed media diet & married to an incredible lady.

2 comments… add one
  • Howie

    Wishing you a full recovery amigo!


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