FOCUS ON HEALTH
Reducing the risk of DVT
By Kim Jackson
The holiday season is here and we are planning trips to far off lands or resorts close to home. But it’s important to be aware of hidden dangers whether going by plane, train or automobile. Over the last few years the risk of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) has come into the spotlight. But what exactly is a DVT? Who is at risk? What are the symptoms? And, of course, what can we do to minimise the risk?
A DVT is a blood clot deep within the veins and has been identified as a risk to people travelling by air. But actually anybody travelling for more than four hours is at risk. So whether you choose to go by sea, air, road or rail, be aware that there are steps you need to take to stay safe. The clot forms because of inactivity and can block the flow of blood. Quite often a blood clot will dissolve on its own with no symptoms but for some treatment may be needed to avoid serious complications. Although the risk of developing a DVT is small, it is still a possibility and there are risk factors and certain people are more susceptible such as:
- People who are over the age of 40
- People who are overweight
- People who smoke
- Those who have had recent surgery or injury – especially those who have spent time immobilised
- People on blood thinning medication
- Those using the contraceptive pill or Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
- Pregnant women or those who have given birth within six weeks of travel
- People with limited or restricted mobility
- People with previous episodes of DVT or family history
- People with varicose veins
Most people do not even realise they have a DVT and often it resolves without any signs or symptoms. However, the following are signs you should look out for:
- Swelling of the arm or leg on one side
- A Cramping feeling in the muscles of the calf
- Unexplained pain or tenderness in the foot or leg
- Red or bluish tinged skin that is warm to the touch and inflamed
One of the more serious symptoms of a DVT is a pulmonary embolism (PE) and it can occur even if you have not had any signs or symptoms of a DVT. If part of the clot travels through the blood stream to the lungs, it can be life-threatening. The symptoms of a PE include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Profuse and unexplained sweating
- Increased or irregular heartbeat
- Unexplained chest pain or discomfort, which gets worse when breathing deep, sneezing or coughing
- Feeling anxious and agitated
- Coughing up blood
- Feeling light-headed, or faint
If you think you may be at risk, speak to your doctor before you travel. However, t there are things that you can do to reduce the risk. Remember, anyone can develop a DVT and prevention is always better than cure:
- If driving, take regular breaks, get out of the car and walk around.
- If on a plane or train, stand up and walk around
- Wear compression socks
Exercise is one way to minimise the risk. The exercises below should be repeated 10 times at least every hour.
- Ankle pumps – While sitting, move your ankles up and down.
- Ankle circles – Make circles with your ankles, first clockwise and then anti-clockwise.
- Leg Raises – If you have room, straighten and bend your knee.
- Hip flexion – These are great to do, especially if you don’t have space. In sitting, imagine you are marching on the spot.
- Shoulder rolls – Roll your shoulders forward and backwards and then shrug up to the ears.
- Stretch – When you are up and walking about, stretch your legs. Stretch those quads – standing on one leg, bring your heel up to your butt. Now for the hamstrings – stretch one leg in front of you, keeping it straight. Bend your back leg and lean forward until you feel the stretch at the back of your leg. And finally, the calf muscles. Standing up tall, place one leg behind you – keeping the back leg straight bend the front knee until you feel a stretch in your calf. Hold all of these stretches for 10 seconds and repeat on both legs.
Safe travels, have fun and don’t forget to send me a postcard.
(Kim Jackson is a physiotherapist who specializes in musculoskeletal pain and dysfunction, including back pain and sciatica, stroke and other neuro conditions as well as sports physiotherapy. She works at Bayside Therapy Services in Rodney Bay, St. Lucia.)