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Deep Vein Thrombosis and Pulmonary Embolism

Some long-distance travelers are at risk for deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism (PE). DVT occurs when a blood clot forms in a large vein. Part of a clot may break off and travel to the lungs, causing a PE, which can be fatal.

Protect yourself by knowing your risk and taking steps to prevent DVT.

Am I at risk for DVT?

Almost anyone can have DVT. People traveling for extended periods of time may be at increased risk for DVT because they have limited movement. The increased risk is usually associated with air travel, but DVT can also form during travel by bus, train, or car.

Most people who develop travel-associated DVT have additional risk factors, including:

  • A previous blood clot
  • Family history of blood clots
  • Known clotting disorder
  • Recent surgery or injury
  • Use of estrogen-containing birth control or hormone replacement therapy
  • Older age
  • Obesity
  • Active cancer (or undergoing chemotherapy)
  • Limited mobility

Steps to DVT Prevention

You can take steps to help prevent DVT. For long distance travelers, these steps include

  • Getting up occasionally and walking around.
  • Exercising your calf muscles and stretching your legs while you're sitting. Try these exercises next time you travel:
    • Raising and lowering your heels while keeping your toes on the floor.
    • Raising and lowering your toes while keeping your heels on the floor.
    • Tightening and releasing your leg muscles.
  • Selecting an aisle seat when possible.

For long-distance travelers with additional risk factors for DVT, talk to your doctor about taking extra precautions such as

  • Wearing properly fitted medical compression stockings.
  • Taking medication before departure to prevent DVT.

Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

It is helpful to know the signs and symptoms in the event that you develop DVT or PE. If you have symptoms of DVT call a doctor right away. If you have symptoms of PE you should seek immediate medical care from a doctor or the emergency department. Early detection and treatment can prevent death or complications.

DVT Symptoms

  • Swelling, pain, or tenderness in the affected limb (usually the leg)
  • Redness and increased warmth of the skin in the affected limb

PE Symptoms

  • Unexplained shortness of breath
  • Faster than normal heartbeat
  • Chest pain
  • Cough (which may be bloody)
  • Lightheadedness or fainting

It is not possible to diagnose either condition without special tests that can be performed only by a doctor, such as an ultrasound, a CT scan, or an MRI. That is why it is important for you to seek medical care if you experience any of the symptoms of DVT or PE.

DVT and PE are treatable, although a large PE can result in sudden death. Sometimes medicines and devices are used to dissolve the clot. Typically, medicines are taken for several weeks to months after the clot to prevent more clots from forming and give the body a chance to dissolve or heal existing clots.

What is CDC Doing?

CDC is conducting research to learn more about risk factors and improve the diagnosis and treatment of DVT/PE by funding the Thrombosis and Hemostasis Centers Research and Prevention Network. In addition, CDC funds health promotion and wellness initiatives to provide people with information about how to prevent DVT and its complications. For example, the Clot Connect education and support program (www.clotconnect.org) receives some funding from CDC for an education website (for information on travel-associated clots see http://patientblog.clotconnect.org/2010/11/22/long-distance-travel-and-blood-clots). In collaboration with the Venous Disease Coalition (VDC), CDC has launched This is Serious, a national campaign to increase awareness and action around the prevention of DVT and PE among women. The campaign encourages women to be aware of DVT/PE symptoms, and to talk to their doctors about their risks. 

Useful Information:

 

 
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