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Venous Thromboembolic Disease -- It Can Be Prevented

It sounds scary, and it should. "Venous thromboembolic disease." Sometimes it's referred to as "deep vein thrombosis," which doesn't sound any less frightening. But you're probably most familiar with it by the name the press has coined to talk about this potentially dangerous medical condition -- "economy class syndrome." It's a potentially dangerous condition that is finally getting more attention.

A Circulation Problem With Serious Consequences

Whatever the name used, what it describes is a health problem that occurs when a pooling of blood takes place in the lower limbs, allowing a blood clot to form. Although small clots are fairly common in our bodies, they usually are dissolved quickly by the body and have no health implications. But when a clot develops that does not dissolve but instead breaks loose and travels to the lung, it can results in a potentially dangerous disorder known as a "pulmonary embolism," a blood clot in the lungs that has the potential to be fatal.

The name "economy class syndrome" came about because of the association of this health problem with the long hours of cramped inactivity that people face on long airline flights. It is important to note, however, that this condition is not caused by being on an airplane, but rather by the problem of sitting with little or no movement for a long amount of time.

That's an important fact to keep in mind as vacation season approaches and many of us will be traveling not only on airplanes, but also on buses, trains and cars. All of these modes of transportation usually mean we are seated and immobile for extended periods of time, conditions that can lead to deep vein thrombosis (DVT). And while DVT is not overly common (health experts estimate it strikes about 1 in 1000 people, although in those over 65 the data indicates that the rate is closer to 3 to 5 occurrences per 1000 people), its effects can be dangerous enough to make any traveler follow some simple precautions to minimize the likelihood of its occurring.

How To Reduce The Risk Of DVT

One effective means of reducing risk is to wear compression hosiery when a long trip is planned. This can be especially effective for long plane trips where the seating is often more cramped and the ability to get up and move around is often limited. However, good compression hose also is just as effective for long trips by car or any other means of transportation. High quality compression hosiery helps to minimize the problem of excessive blood pooling in the legs, and thus reduces the chances of a blood clot forming.

You can also help reduce the risk of this condition by making sure you aren't simply sitting still for the entire trip. On a plane trip, getting up to take a walk up and down the aisle at regular intervals will do a great deal to keep your blood circulating properly. On car trips, plan regular stops for a short walk. It not only minimizes the health risks associated with long periods of sitting inactive, but will help you arrive at your destination feeling more relaxed and comfortable.

There may be times that you find you are stuck sitting for a long period of time with little or no opportunity to get up and actually walk around. That doesn't mean, however, that you need be inactive. There are simple things you can do, even while sitting, that will help contract your leg muscles and improve the circulation in your legs. Simple foot movements, such as lifting the toes of your foot while keeping your heel on the ground, can be done. It also helps to lift your feet, one at a time, slightly off the ground and then rotate the foot at the angle, first in one direction and then the other. Such exercise should be performed for a few minutes every half hour to help stimulate blood flow.

Some common sense approaches can also help minimize risk. One simple one is to wear loose, comfortable clothing for long periods of travel so that your clothes aren't helping restrict blood flow. You also want to be well hydrated, drinking plenty of water both before and during the travel period. It's also good advice to avoid alcohol and to limit drinks high in caffeine, such as tea and coffee, all of which can help decrease blood flow.

Be Aware Of Factors That Can Increase Your Risk

While these simple steps can help reduce the risk for this potentially dangerous condition for nearly everyone, there are also some people who are more likely to be affected by it due to existing conditions. Risk factors include either a prior personal or family history of venous thromboembolic disease, obesity, pregnancy, a blood clotting disorder or various chronic disease. Anyone with such risk factors, should both take steps to minimize their risk when taking long trips, as well as consult with their physician prior to undertaking such travel.

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