People are aware of clot risks from long-haul flights, but Margaret Jennings stresses that the chances of developing one in daily life are still significant
YOU’RE on that long-haul flight, totally absorbed in your entertainment system and before you know it, you have landed at your destination. But how often have you got up to move around — apart from going to the loo?
The need to flex our limbs while 35,000ft above the Earth’s surface is a relatively familiar scenario we associate with keeping the risk of getting a clot at bay. Even at that, though, how many of us put that advice into practice? And did you know that even with our feet firmly on the ground, we can be at risk of getting different types of clots?
For instance, our risk increases considerably as we get older; from the age of 40
onwards, it doubles with each subsequent decade.
“Worldwide, one in four people die from causes related to thrombosis or blood clots,” says Dr Tomás Breslin, consultant in emergency medicine at Dublin’s Mater Hospital.
“Blood clots can form in the two major different types of blood vessels in the body — the arteries and veins.”
Clots in arteries result in heart attacks and strokes. A clot in the vein — usually in the leg or pelvis — is known as a deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Then a clot that breaks off and travels to the lungs is known as a pulmonary embolism (PE). Together, DVT and PE make up venous thromboembolism (VTE).
“In Ireland, it is estimated that up to
4,000 people die from VTE every year, and many of these deaths are preventable,” says Breslin.
Apart from being more at risk as we age, clots can also occur as a result of cancer, dehydration, being overweight, smoking and, of course, family history, or genetics.
But another significant DVT risk factor, he says, is being immobile for a prolonged period, in particular, not moving our legs. That’s where the long-haul flights come in. But it can also happen if we are sitting or lying in any environment: “A long stretch of time with bent legs can kink the veins and stop the flow of blood through them,” he tells Feelgood.
Some of the symptoms include pain; swelling and tenderness in the calf muscle; swelling of the whole leg; redness of the area; dilation of the surface veins and skin that is warm to touch.
“If someone experiences a PE, however, they may suffer from shortness of breath, breathing difficulties and sometimes pain in the lungs,” says Breslin. “Seeking medical help following any of these symptoms is essential as blood clots in the lungs can be fatal if left untreated.”
Prevention is key, so leading a healthy lifestyle — always a good motto as we age —
is important. That includes staying active, eating well, limiting weight gain and avoiding smoking.
When staying in hospital for whatever reason, we should try and move around throughout the day if possible, to stimulate blood flow in the legs.
On those long-haul flights we should stay hydrated — drink plenty of water, avoid alcohol, keep the legs moving and walk around.
The need to keep exercising can’t be emphasised enough says, fitness expert, Jamie Headon. “The benefits of being active as you age are well documented — regular exercise helps boost mobility, improve brain function and increase muscle mass.”
In addition, limiting those extended periods of sitting down, can also help normal flow of blood throughout our body and thereby reduce your risk of developing a blood clot.
Here are some of his top leg exercises for anyone aged over 50:
Ankle rolls: Lift one leg off the ground and roll your ankle clockwise 10 times and anti-clockwise 10 times — hold on to a chair or table to stay balanced. Repeat with the opposite leg.
Leg lifts : While sitting in a chair, extend one leg straight out in front of you. Hold for two seconds. Then raise it up slightly and lower back to the ground slowly. Repeat 5 times for each leg.
Knee Raises: Hold your arms out straight in front you. Lift one leg up and hold your knee with both hands for about 10 seconds. Repeat 5 times for each leg.
Calf Raises: With your toes pointing forward, raise your heels unilaterally off the ground while keeping your toes on the floor. Slowly lower your heels back to the ground and repeat 10-20 times.
Chair squats: Stand in front of a chair with feet hip-width apart. Hold your arms out straight in front you. Slowly lower your bottom onto the chair. Make sure to keep your knees over your ankles, placing your weight in your heels, not the knees. Squats should focus on driving the knees out. Repeat 10 times.
“All exercises should be performed with a tight core, straight back, feet shoulder-width apart and head facing forward. I also always recommend consulting your doctor before starting a new exercise routine,” says Headon.
Jamie Headon is working with Thrombosis Ireland (VTE support group), in partnership with Bayer, on a national awareness campaign called #Time2Move to educate men and women about DVT. To learn more visit www.thrombocoach.com
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