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With Holiday Travel on the Horizon, Know Your Risk for Thrombosis

Friday, December 08, 2017

Holiday travel can mean extended periods of time sitting in a car or airplane — a risk factor for thrombosis.

Thrombosis is caused by a blood clot forming in an artery or vein, preventing blood from circulating. Thrombosis can block blood flow throughout the body. When thrombosis occurs in the arties that supply blood to the heart, a heart attack can occur. When thrombosis occurs in arties in the brain, it can lead to stroke. A type of thrombosis called deep-vein thrombosis (DVT) occurs when clots form in a deep vein in the body, such as a leg. If the clot breaks loose and travels in the blood, it is called venous thromboembolism (VTE); if the clot moves to the lungs, it is called a pulmonary embolism.

“Often times, the patients we see aren’t aware of the symptoms or warning signs,” says Sybille Nelson, an acute care nurse practitioner in the UI Health Stroke Institute. “If they are educated on what to look for, we could intervene early and prevent serious life-threatening complications.”

Thrombosis can be a serious, life-threatening condition; one in four people who have a pulmonary embolism will die from thrombosis-related issues. But most blood clots can be prevented.

Long periods of time without movement — such as travel or a hospital stay — are risk factors for thrombosis, as is family history of thrombosis or DVT. Other contributing factors are:

  • Age
  • Smoking/Alcohol use
  • Being overweight or obese/lack of activity
  • Health conditions, including cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, and lung disease
  • Surgery

Prevent thrombosis during the travel season by performing basic leg exercises, such as stretching; drink plenty of water and avoiding drinks that will dehydrate you (coffee, alcohol); and wearing compression stockings that promote blood flow, if needed. In general, exercise, maintaining a healthy body weight, avoiding tobacco, and taking medication as prescribed will help lower risk.

If you notice any of the following, seek immediate medical attention:

  • Leg swelling 
  • Leg pain or tenderness in thigh or calf
  • Skin that feels warm to the touch
  • Reddish discoloration or streaks on skin
  • Unexplained shortness of breath
  • Rapid breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Fast heart rate
  • Lightheadedness

Standard treatment for thrombosis or embolism is blood-thinning medications or anticoagulants. In some cases, thrombolytic therapy with a clot dissolving enzyme, or removing a clot in the lung with surgery or a catheter may be an option.

As a Comprehensive Stroke Center, UI Health has coordinated care protocols for intravenous thrombolysis-eligible patients that result in door-to-treatment times that exceed national benchmarks.

“The UI Health Interventional Radiology and Surgery Departments have expert physicians to perform these life-saving procedures,” says Nelson, “and the Hematology team provides medical treatments according to evidence-based guidelines.”

Learn more about thrombosis at the UI Health Stroke Institute.