Step Away from the Chair – It Just May Save Your Life

How much of your day is spent sitting? If you’re like the average American, the answer is six and a half hours – eight if you’re a teen – according to the Journal of the American Medical Association. Those hours of sitting and working followed by sitting and watching television (or gaming, crafting, reading, snacking, etc.) definitely aren’t good for our heart health, mental health or waistlines. But did you know it can actually be dangerous?

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that 100,000 people die of venous thromboembolism, or what are commonly called “blood clots,” every year. Another 800,000 people are treated for blood clots and survive. And one of the risk factors is our sedentary lifestyle.

What is a blood clot?

Blood is supposed to clot. If it didn’t, a paper cut could be fatal. But blood clots that do not form in response to an injury are dangerous. According to the Mayo Clinic, these clots are gel-like clumps of blood that form for no beneficial reason and don’t dissolve naturally. There are two types. The first is a deep vein thrombosis, or DVT, which occurs in the arms, legs or pelvis. If a DVT is left untreated it can cause the second type of blood clot, a pulmonary embolism, or PE, which is the result of part of the DVT breaking off and traveling to the lungs. Depending on the size of the clot that breaks off, it can permanently damage the lung or cause a fatal blockage.

Who’s at risk?

Anyone, at any age, can have a DVT. Sitting for long periods, especially with the legs crossed, amplifies risk. Injuries, particularly to the legs or hip, increase the danger as do recent surgeries. Heart or lung disease, smoking, digestive diseases (such as Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis), cancer and cancer treatments are common risk factors. The use of birth control or hormone replacement therapy, pregnancy – particularly in women over 35 – and having recently given birth increase the threat. Older people, obese people, and those with a family history of DVT are at greater risk. And thirty percent of people who have a DVT will have another within ten years.

What are the symptoms?

About half of people experience swelling, pain, tenderness, or heat or redness of the skin. If you encounter any of these warning signs, seek medical help immediately. Unfortunately, the other half of people with DVT experience no indications. PE symptoms may occur without DVT symptoms occurring first. These signs may include difficulty breathing, fast or erratic heartbeat, chest pain that may worsen with coughing or deep breathing, coughing up blood, or very low blood pressure – which may lead to fainting or light-headedness. If you experience any of these warning signs, don’t delay in seeking medical help. If a DVT or PE is detected, doctors may administer thrombolytic medication to dissolve the clot or, in rare cases, they may perform surgery to remove it.

How can I prevent DVT and PE?

Move around as soon as safely possible after an illness or injury. Pause your show or put down the game controller every two or three hours and walk around for a few minutes. If you’re stuck at a desk or you’re traveling and can’t get up, lift and lower your legs or circle them every couple of hours. If you’re in a tight space, just raise and lower your heels from the floor. And if you have some of the risk factors, ask your doctor about wearing compression stockings or taking medications that lower the risk of developing a DVT. Get up off that couch. It just may save your life.

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