Avoid Deep-Vein Thrombosis

May 19 2011 by Jason Fogelson
Comments (5)

iStock_000005887982XSmall.jpgI'm going to go off-topic a little bit here, but not really. This warning is about motorcycle travel, and travel in general. It's a cautionary tale that unfortunately emerges from my personal experience.

I was just diagnosed with Deep-Vein Thrombosis, or DVT. Following a cross-country flight, I noticed some pain in my lower leg. I ignored it, figuring it was just another sign of aging. I have been traveling a lot in the past few weeks, and by coincidence, getting booked in middle seats on crowded flights.

After a few days, the pain increased. It was behind my left knee, and at my ankle. My wife was concerned; I wasn't. We went to visit my family for Mother's Day, and I mentioned my leg pain to my sister, a registered nurse. She immediately texted an ER doctor with details, and I was whisked away from my family gathering directly to the hospital. A few hours later, and I had been subjected to blood tests, physical exams and an ultrasound of my leg. The ER doctors determined that I had a blood clot in a vein in my lower leg, or Deep-Vein Thrombosis.

Not only does DVT cause pain and inflammation, it can be life threatening. If a clot or a large piece of a clot breaks off and travels through the bloodstream, it can wind up blocking blood flow in the lung -- a pulmonary embolism. Pulmonary embolisms can cause permanent damage to lung tissue, and may cause breathing problems or death. Which would be a total bummer.

A few years ago, the treatment would have begun with immediate hospitalization and intravenous administration of heparin, a blood thinner. The present treatment is to send the patient home after an injection of Lovenox, a quick-acting blood thinner, and instructions to take Coumadin, an oral medication. That's what they did with me. I have to self-inject (actually, my wife is doing it for me) Lovenox twice a day until the Coumadin reaches therapeutic levels, then I'll have to take Coumadin or some other blood thinner for the next six months.

The good news is that I'll probably be fine if I follow doctors' orders and get proper treatment. The better news is that DVT may be avoidable in the first place, so you don't need to repeat my experience.

The best advice I can find says that regular exercise, weight management and good nutrition are smart steps toward good health and avoiding DVT. Avoid sitting still for too long without stretching or standing. This is particularly an issue for frequent fliers, who can get confined in an airplane seat for many hours at a time. Even if you must inconvenience your seatmates by standing, make an effort to get up and move around every hour or two. The same advice applies to desk jockeys -- don't sit in that office chair all day without a break. You're asking for trouble.

Motorcycle travelers, you've got to be careful, too. Be sure to stop, get off the bike and stretch every hour or so. That goes for cruisers and sport bike riders alike; even the most comfortable ride still keeps you from moving around enough. I'm worried about my next long ride, which is coming up in a few weeks. We'll have to see if I have recovered enough leg strength to manage a big touring bike without pain.

The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute hosts a great animation that explains DVT. There's even a Coalition to Prevent Deep-Vein Thrombosis on the web.

The internet is a great source of information about medical issues, but be careful about self-diagnosis. Read up on the condition, but go to the doctor for regular checkups, and rush to the doctor if you experience any unusual pains or sensations, especially after a long flight or period of confinement.

I hope that everyone who reads this article is able to learn from my experience, and avoid Deep-Vein Thrombosis. I wish I had taken the precautions that I'm advising, because it's no fun at all.

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    5 Comments

    By Svetlana on May 19, 2011 11:29 AM

    Thanks for sharing this information. Important to know. And feel better soon!

    By Karen on June 21, 2011 6:48 AM

    My husband has DVT as a result of a back injury. The lifelong medication and the constant blood testing can get overwhelming at times. But he is okay, and that is all that matters.

    By Kevrel on June 24, 2011 8:54 AM

    This has made my day. I wish all ptoisngs were this good.

    By Barbara Jamieson on June 28, 2011 5:21 AM

    My husband and I are planning a 15,000 km trip starting in August and this is good information about DVT. We will definitely make sure to exercise every few hours to prevent DVT and to enjoy the scenery.

    By Cheryl Trojovsky on September 22, 2013 4:20 PM

    This post was a few years ago. How was that ride? I have always wanted to ride, and at 53 I still haven't gotten the chance. Now I have my 2nd DVT and concerned about ever riding. Any advice?


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