Traveler's Thrombosis: When Sitting Still Can Be Deadly
What Is DVT?
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) (also known as venous thromboembolism) occurs when a blood clot develops in the deep veins of the legs and groin (the lower-abdomen/upper thigh areas). These deep veins are not visible at the skin's surface, and are not related to varicose veins. A clot that breaks loose and travels through the deep veins to the heart and lungs can cause severe blockage of blood flow or death.
Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment
People who develop DVT don't always have symptoms. However, those who do usually experience the following symptoms in one leg or the other (rarely both):
Symptoms of DVT may include:
Sudden, severe shortness of breath, with or without chest pain, may signal that a clot has traveled to the lungs.
DVT can be diagnosed by ultrasound imaging tests, which highlight blood flow in the veins and show clot formation. If a clot is found, blood-thinning medication to stabilize the clot and allow it to dissolve will be prescribed immediately. Hospitalization may be required for treatment and observation, and patients often take oral medication for several months afterwards, to ensure restoration of normal blood flow through the vein.
Risk factors for DVT include:
Preventing DVT While Traveling
If you are planning any kind of travel that requires sitting for long stretches of time, be sure to do the following:
One cautionary note: DVT may surface after travel has been completed. If you experience any of the symptoms listed above, contact your doctor immediately.
National Institutes of Health
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
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Last reviewed September 2012 by Brian Randall, MD