Prevent Pulmonary Embolism While Traveling
Pulmonary Embolism (PE) is a sudden blockage in a lung artery. The blockage usually is caused by a blood clot that travels to the lung from a vein in the leg.
PE can sometimes occur when the blood flow slows down during a long period of inactivity. It is not an uncommon medical condition among those who travel long distances frequently and find themselves in situations where they aren’t moving around much. For example: long drives, long plane rides, airport layovers, sitting behind tradeshow booths, sitting in long conferences, etc.
Who is at risk of PE?
Although PE can strike anyone, those most at risk for this condition include the following:
- People with a family history of PE and/or blood clotting
- Cancer patients
- Stroke victims
- Those diagnosed with heart disease
- People with long history of blood clots (thrombophilia)
- Those who are recovering from a recent surgery
- People with obesity
- Pregnant women
- People undergoing hormone replacement therapy
- People who are relatively inactive
Signs of PE
It is important to know the signs of pulmonary embolism. Extreme symptoms include unexplained shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, chest pain, coughing or coughing up blood and an irregular heartbeat). However, there are warming signs that PE may be imminent. These include leg swelling, leg pain or tenderness, a feeling of increased warmth in the area of the leg that’s swollen or tender, and red or discolored skin on the affected leg. In addition, some people who experience PE have feelings of anxiety, light-headedness or fainting, rapid breathing, sweating, or an increased heart rate.
If you’re at risk of developing blood clots, consult your doctor before travelling long distances. They can advise about ways to reduce your chance of a clot developing during your journey, such as:
- performing simple leg exercises, such as regularly flexing your ankles
- taking occasional short walks when possible
- taking advantage of refueling stops while driving, where it may be possible to get out and walk around
- drink plenty of water and avoid drinking alcohol
- wearing elastic compression stockings to encourage continuous blood flow through the legs during long bouts of inactivity (long flights/drives, for example)
According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), preventing PE begins with preventing deep vein thrombosis (DVT). It is important to know if you are at risk for DVT by consulting a physician and understanding steps you can take to lower your risk.
If you’ve already had DVT or PE, along with regular check-ups, most doctors will strongly suggest the following to prevent new blood clots from forming:
- Use compression stockings to prevent chronic (ongoing) swelling in your legs from DVT.
- Take anticoagulant medication (blood thinner) which will alter the chemicals in your blood so that clots don’t easily form.
- Quit smoking (or don’t start) and avoid excessive use of alcohol.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet that is low in fat.
- Maintain a healthy weight and exercise regularly – at least 150 minutes a week.
Of course this list is not all encompassing, and each individual has unique circumstances. If you feel you might be at risk, please seek medical assistance immediately if you experience any of the signs listed above while traveling and/or being subjected to long periods of inactivity.