Wellness: Fitness

Sitting Still: A Risk for Blood Clots 

Whether you're stuck on an airplane or glued to a computer, staying put for hours can be risky.

Dangerous blood clots in the legs — what doctors call deep vein thrombosis — made headlines after striking airline passengers on long trips. But anyone who stays inactive for hours can face similar risks for blood clots.

The problem is mainly caused by being immobile for long periods of time.

Cramped inactivity may promote clotting, especially among passengers who may be at high risk.

Most cause no problems

Many clots cause no symptoms and vanish when the flier lands and moves on. But some clots break loose, lodge in lung arteries, and cause serious complications.

The blood flow through veins can slow for anyone who sits or stands for long periods with no movement. Driving instead of flying won't help.

Your risk for clots may rise with heart disease, cancer, smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, diseased veins, faulty valves, or abnormal blood clotting in you or your blood relatives. Major surgery, leg trauma, pregnancy, and the use of contraceptive pills also raise risks for deep vein thrombosis.

Periodic walking can reduce the risk of developing deep vein thrombosis, reports the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. If you can't leave your seat, try heel raises, toe lifts, or flexing your feet — any kind of movement can help.

If you have risk factors for deep vein thrombosis, your doctor may prescribe compression stockings or blood thinners to use while traveling, says the NHLBI. 

Watch for these signs

Call a doctor immediately if you have these symptoms:

  • Swelling, pain, or both, often in one leg

  • A dull ache, heaviness, and pressure in the lower legs

  • Tight muscles, especially in the ankles and calves

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