Avoid damaging and deadly blood clots, from the Harvard Heart Letter

Deep-vein thrombosis (DVT) is a dangerous blood clot that forms deep in a leg or arm vein. Pulmonary embolism (PE) is its most serious—and often deadly—complication. Each year 100,000 people die from DVT and PE, more than die from breast, prostate, and colon cancer combined. You may have heard of these conditions as "economy class syndrome." But that's misleading. Air travel accounts for a tiny minority of DVT or PE cases. Injury, immobilization, and clotting disorders are the big culprits, reports the May 2009 issue of the Harvard Heart Letter.

You can take simple steps to prevent DVT and PE. Moving your legs is the best medicine:

  • If you have to sit for several hours—on a plane, in a train or car, or at work—try to get up and move around as often as you can.
  • While sitting, help your muscles push blood back to the heart by raising and lowering your heels, raising and lowering your toes while keeping your heels on the floor, and by tightening and releasing your leg muscles.
  • Avoid wearing stockings that bind your calf muscle.
  • Drink plenty of water.

If you've had a DVT or PE, talk with your doctor about whether taking a blood-thinning medication like warfarin is right for you. Wearing compression stockings that massage the legs when traveling or sitting for long periods might also be a good idea. And try to keep up with the exercises listed above.

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