Summer vacation plans and DVTs

With more than 70 percent of American adults planning to travel this summer, an Ascension St. Vincent’s ER doctor warns that vacation plans that involve extended travel time on an airplane or car can increase risk for deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a blood clot that forms in a large vein, typically in the leg.

Dr. Alex Mathai, medical director of Ascension St. Vincent's Freestanding EDs in Westside and Arlington, said symptoms of DVT can include throbbing pain or swelling in one leg, warm or reddened skin around the painful area, or swollen veins typically in one leg. 

The most common risk factors doctors see are: recent hospitalization, age, cancer, pregnancy, smoking, and family history of blood clots.

"Deep vein thrombosis can be very serious because blood clots in your veins can break loose, travel through your bloodstream and get stuck in your lungs, also known as pulmonary embolism (PE)," he said. "In the Freestanding EDs, we use ultrasound to rapidly detect DVTs in minutes."

Dr. Mathai said while symptoms of PE can vary from mild to severe, they include heart racing, difficulty breathing, cough that can sometimes be accompanied by blood, chest pain especially with deep inspiration, and can progress to shock and/or cardiac arrest.

To minimize risk of DVTs, Dr. Mathai suggests setting a reminder to stretch your legs at least every two hours when traveling. The most important thing you can do to prevent complications from a DVT is knowing the warning signs and seeking medical consultation as soon as possible.

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