The silent danger of road trips
By DR. KAREN LATIMER
Summer is the perfect time to jump in the car, put on some tunes and hit the road. The highways are packed with cars heading toward fun vacation destinations, full of people anticipating a good time. The trip itself, especially if you have kids, can be less than ideal. You are risking traffic, breakdowns, car sickness, boredom and familial discord, the level of which can only be reached by cramming everyone in a small enclosed space for hours at a time.
So, you prepare. You fill the car with gas, and check the oil. You plan your music, and pick up a good book on tape. You pack snacks for the kids, and do a pre-departure search for easy travel games. Are you preparing though, for something that can wreak havoc not only on your trip, but on your life?
Blood clots affect 2 million people each year in the United States and kill about 200,000 people according to the American Public Health Association.
We depend on our blood's ability to clot for survival. Without clotting ability, we couldn't heal, and the most minor injury could cause massive bleeding. Clotting is necessary, but in some cases, it is a necessary evil, as it also clots in dangerous ways, resulting in heart attack, stroke and other major problems.
Extended travel time is a risk factor for developing a DVT (deep vein thrombosis,) a blood clot that develops in a large vein, usually the leg. The real danger from a DVT is the potential for it to travel to the lungs, resulting in a pulmonary embolism. In about a third of cases, pulmonary embolisms are fatal.
Anyone can develop a DVT but the risk factors which increase the possibility include cancer, recent surgery, heart disease, being overweight, pregnancy, smoking, supplemental estrogen (as in birth control pills) and TRAVEL.
Sitting in a cramped position for hours at a time is itself a risk factor. Everyone should be aware of the risk of DVT, but if you carry any of the other risk factors in addition, you need to be even more cautious.
How to minimize your risk of developing a DVT during road trips:
- Make sure you are sitting in a comfortable position.
- Stretch your legs frequently. Rotate your ankles, raise and lower your toes, extend your calves, and generally get your legs moving every 15 minutes.
- Take breaks to get out of the car for a few minutes. Even though I know you want to stay on schedule, factor in the need for walking breaks.
- Wear comfortable, loose fitting clothing that does not constrict you at the waist or legs.
- Stay hydrated. Dehydration will compound the risk for clots to form. Think of it this way. If you drink a lot, you'll be forced to take a few bathroom breaks, which will get you up and out of the car.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol.
- If you take aspirin or blood thinners, make sure to take them on the days leading up to and following travel.
The risk for developing a blood clot continues a few days after travel. While it might be nice to lie around and do nothing on vacation, getting up and moving, even if it is just to the nearest bar, is better for your health.
If you experience chest pain or shortness of breath at any time, but especially after sitting for prolonged periods, call 911 immediately. Your life may depend on it.