Dear Dr. Susan,
My job requires that I sit at a computer a lot. I also fly frequently—sometimes overseas. I've read that these things put me at risk for a dangerous blood clot. What can I do to protect myself, with-out quitting my job (which I love)? —Liz
Your blood's ability to clot is complex and essential to your survival. It depends partly on slowing the blood flow at an injury site so that a needed clot can form and anchor itself down. If your blood flow slows inappropriately, however, you're daring a clot to form for no good reason, with nothing to anchor to.
Abnormal clotting can happen when blood is too thick (for example, if you're dehydrated); or after a recent major surgery or trauma (such as a leg or hip fracture, or childbirth); or if blood isn't circulating the way it normally does (for example, if you've been sitting at your desk too long).
Sitting in an airplane is more dangerous because clots are even more likely to form when you're above 14,000 feet. And, just because you've landed doesn't mean you're out of the woods—most clots occur within two weeks after you deplane.
Depending on which study you read, 30 to 50 percent of all clots cause no symptoms early on. That's bad because, although some clots resolve on their own, a delay in treatment gives them a chance to break loose and cause a stroke or lodge in a lung.
(To learn more on how to prevent a stroke read this article here, and listen to the teaching we have on how to prevent stroke--on the side bar of this page.)
Symptoms of a leg clot usually start with swelling at the back of the leg, pain that worsens with movement, redness, abnormal warmth, and a bluish discoloration.
A clot in your lungs may cause chest pain, shortness of breath, fainting...or sudden death. So, don't take chances. If you have any suspicions of a clot, immediately seek emergency medical care. If your symptoms are in one of your legs, keep the affected leg elevated to reduce the risk that the clot will break loose.
Proper treatment will stabilize the clot so that it doesn't break loose, and dissolve it over several days to weeks.
Blood Clot Prevention
According to a report from the World Health Organization, sitting on a flight that's longer than four hours doubles your risk of developing a blood clot.
So, taking steps to prevent clots from forming is crucial, whether you're cramped in coach or sitting at your desk the whole day.
Here are some effective measures to prevent blood clots from happening:
► Don't just sit there. Get up every half hour and move around for a full minute. Rise up on your toes, rock back onto your heels, lift your toes up, and do hamstring and quad stretches. If you're in an office or some other spacious area, also try some stretching poses, which can help with blood flow.
► Socks rock. Wearing compression stockings while on long flights substantially reduces the risk of blood clots in your legs. In a study that examined the benefits of using compression socks when flying, 50 out of 2,637 people developed clots in their legs; 47 of those 50 had not worn compression stockings (Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews). One brand of compression socks I like is Jobst.
Be sure to ask your physician which compression level is best for you.
► Adapt. If you can't get up (for instance, if you're on a cramped plane), "dance" while you sit.
Lift your heels and wag them from side to side. Bounce your legs on the balls of your feet, then put your heels on the floor, lift your toes, and wag them from side to side.
Next, place the inner sides of your feet on the floor and lift the outer edges up while pressing your knees together.
Then separate your knees and press the soles of your feet together and lift your heels up. Use your imagination and move often!
Can Water, Smoking and Exercise Affect Blood Clots?
► Hydrate with H2O.
Drink at least 8 ounces of water every waking hour to ensure that your blood is free-flowing. To spice it up a bit, drink hot water with 1/4 teaspoon of powdered ginger, which has natural anticoagulant action. (However, I don't recommend ginger for women who cannot tolerate hot spices, experience hot flashes, or have dehydrated and wrinkled skin.)
► Avoid cigarettes and certain medications. Don't smoke, and don't take birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy (HRT) that isn't bioidentical and customized for your condition. These are all well-established risk factors for blood clots.
► Get fit. A recent study found that among almost 8,000 men and women between the ages of 18 and 60, women who exercised regularly had a 55 percent less risk of developing a blood clot as long as they weren't taking birth control pills or conventional HRT.
Nonexercisers with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more had nearly a four times greater risk of a blood clot than those with a BMI below 25 (Journal of Thrombosis and Haemostasis).
► Eat chocolate! Flavonoid-rich dark chocolate that has more than 70 percent cacao helps prevent inappropriate blood clotting for 12 hours, according to a recent Johns Hopkins School of Medicine study (Preventive Cardiology).
You can find many organic dark chocolate varieties at your local health food store. As always, be sure to eat chocolate in moderation!
► Take fish oil and vitamin E. Fish oil is a natural blood thinner. I recommend a superior-quality fish oil that is certified free of heavy metal toxins. Take 1,000-3,000 mg of fish oil per day. Vitamin E is another blood thinner. I recommend 400 IU of natural vita-min E per day.
► Check your K. If you're already taking an anticoagulant medication and you're also taking a bone mineral supplement that contains vitamin K, ask your physician to check your clotting time.
Both vitamins K1 and K2 can improve your body's ability to make good use of the bone minerals you're taking, but they also can counteract your anticoagulant, particularly if lifestyle factors increase your risk of a blood clot.
If you have no need to take an anticoagulant, a bone mineral supplement that contains vitamin K should be safe as long as the dose doesn't exceed 100 mcg of either K2 (menaquinone) or K1 (phylloquinone or phytonadione).
Thanks for your question, Liz. I hope this information helps you—and many other women—prevent dangerous blood clots from forming.