Summer is here and residents across the state of Arizona will be heading on vacation. Many vacationers will fly or drive long distances to reach their destinations, but if you plan on taking a long trip this summer, you should be aware of a vein disorder that is especially prevalent for travelers over 50.
Deep vein thrombosis is a dangerous condition that occurs when a blood clot forms in a deep leg vein. It is potentially fatal because the clot could travel to the lung and cause a pulmonary embolism. DVT usually occurs in the calf and travelers are at increased risk of DVT during long plane or car rides.
The main cause of DVT is sluggish blood flow caused by long periods of inactivity. Many travelers will spend up to two hours or more sitting in one spot during a long trip. This slowing blood flow can result in clotting, obstructing venous return and cause your legs to swell.
Anyone who is older and has taken a long plane flight is familiar with the swelling you experience in the foot and calf areas. This swelling happens to most people, but it is more noticeable for someone who is suffering from a vein disorder.
The most common signs of DVT during your trip is a sudden, unexplained pain in your calf accompanied by swelling.
DVT is a serious condition, but there are simple steps that can be taken to prevent it from occurring during long periods of travel.
Get the blood flowing
The simplest action to prevent DVT is to prevent sluggish blood flow. You get your blood pumping by getting up and moving around. If you are in a plane, get up frequently and walk around the aisle; if you are in your car, make a pit stop. You should walk around at least once every two hours.
Your movements should be more pronounced than simply flexing your ankles. A recent study demonstrated that it is the shifting of your weight on alternate feet that is necessary to achieve adequate blood flow. So walking is key to get the blood flowing and decrease your chances for DVT.
Wear a compression stocking
Compression stockings are special stockings or socks that apply a pressure gradient to your lower leg in order to maintain blood flow and help reduce swelling. You can purchase a compression stocking at your local drugstore, online or at your local medical supply store.
Compression stockings are most often used as a form of therapy after an individual is recovering from DVT, but the stocking can be preventative. I would recommend purchasing a stocking with at least mild compression strength (15-20 mmHg). This will help travelers who have mild spider veins, slight varicose veins and aching legs.
You can find an economy-brand compression stockings at your local drugstore for $30 to $40.
Wear your compression stockings anytime you are traveling for long periods of time.
Take some medicine
Taking an aspirin before your flight can help reduce your risk of DVT. Drugs such as aspirin are blood thinners, which means they can prevent your blood platelets from clumping together and creating a clot.
Consult with your doctor before using drugs like aspirin as a preventive measure because some of the side effects are bleeding and stomach irritation.
Drink lots of water during your long drive or flight. When you are dehydrated, your blood thickens, increasing your risk for a blood clot. When you are flying, you are breathing very dry air and losing water, so make sure you hydrate during the entirety of your travels.
I also recommend avoiding alcohol and coffee since these liquids will dehydrate you.
Taking these precautions will help you prevent DVT and help you avoid annoying leg swelling during your trip.
If you suspect you are suffering from DVT, do not delay medical attention. It is a medical emergency and immediate treatment can be lifesaving. An ultrasound is required to ensure there are no blood clots. This usually can only be accomplished in a timely manner in an emergency room.JN
Dr. Lawrence Presant is the chief medical officer at Arizona Vein Specialists. He is a diplomat of the American Board of Venous and Lymphatic Medicine.