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Deep vein thrombosis and holiday travel - what travelers need to know

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RALEIGH, N.C. -

During the holidays, many Americans travel long distances to be with family and friends - this can mean prolonged sitting in cars and buses, trains or planes. You may not be aware that extensive travel can put you at risk for developing a particular type of blood clot known as a deep vein thrombosis.

Dr. Campbell will join the WNCN Today crew Wednesday morning to discuss just what DVT is and the risks associated with it.

Deep vein thrombosis is a condition in which a blood clot forms within deep-circulation blood vessels, typically in the veins in the legs. Veins drain blood back to the heart so it can be oxygenated in the lungs. Blood clots often form when blood is allowed to pool in the extremities for long periods of time, such as with prolonged sitting or extended periods of lying in bed (for example, after surgery).

Sitting still for more than four hours at one time can can increase the risk for DVT and after a period of prolonged sitting, your risk for forming a DVT may persist for several weeks.

The American Heart Association estimates that 1 in 1000 people develop DVT each year. Symptoms of DVT include swelling, warmth or redness in the leg or calf. In some cases, patients develop pain in the calf that is worse when standing or walking. This is particularly alarming if it is associated with redness and swelling. DVT may not be apparent right after travel but often appears after the trip is over and in the weeks following the trip.

There are risk factors for DVT including prior blood clots, recent surgery, pregnancy, cancer and certain medicines such as oral contraceptives and hormone replacement medications.

Deep vein thrombosis can be very serious. The most serious complications of DVT can be a pulmonary embolism, or PE. In the case of a PE, a piece of the blood clot in the vein can break off and travel to the lungs. If the clot lodges in the lungs it can prevent circulation through the lungs and even result in death if it's not treated quickly.

For those who think they may have developed a DVT, medical help should be sought immediately. If they develop shortness or breath or chest pain with breathing, call 911 and seek emergency help - this could indicate that the blood clot has traveled to the lungs and a pulmonary embolism has occurred. 

There are things we can do to prevent DVT while traveling this holiday season.

If you're traveling by car, stop every hour and get out and walk around. If you're on a plane, try to get up and walk every 30 minutes, if possible.

Avoid alcohol, caffeine and other substances that may cause dehydration. Drink plenty of fluids, preferably water.

While sitting on the plane or in the car, try to raise your toes and flex your calves every 20 minutes. This motion causes your calf muscles to contract and promotes the flow of blood in the leg veins. This can help keep blood from pooling and forming a clot.

If you have risk factors for DVT, you may want to consider talking with your physician before traveling to obtain compression stockings for your legs. If you have had a previous blood clot, you may need to take blood thinners.

You can watch Dr. Campbell Wednesday mornings at 6:15.

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