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Last updated November 30, 2017 (originally published October 14, 2010)

By Muireann Prendergast, Contributing Columnist

[Health and fitness articles are reviewed by our Editorial Board, which
Registered Nurses and Certified fitness professionals]

If you've ever flown on one of those interminably long flights,
you've  heard of deep vein thrombosis. Maybe you've read
about it in an in-flight magazine, seen the unflattering socks
that supposedly help prevent it or been irritated by someone
on an airplane constantly walking around and stretching their
legs during flights as they try to reduce their risk of deep vein

According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,  
350,000 to 600,000 Americans develop deep vein thrombosis
each year, and that at least 100,000 of us die as a result. The
list of famous people who have died of deep vein thrombosis
include Dan Blocker of Bonanza fame,  the rapper Heavy D and
award-winning television journalist David Bloom. But, how
many of us actually know what deep vein thrombosis is? What
are the symptoms of deep vein thrombosis? What exactly
causes deep vein thrombosis and are there any foods or other
natural remedies we can enlist to prevent  this potentially fatal

What is a Deep Vein Thrombosis?

According to the American Heart Association, deep vein
thrombosis is the formation of a blood clot (thrombus) in a
deep vein. Normally, this happens in the leg, either in the thigh
or calf. Deep vein thrombosis can be life-threatening because
the clot in your vein can break away from its initial location,
travel to your heart or brain, and cause a heart attack or
stroke.  The clot in effect obstructs vessels in the heart or lungs
thereby impeding blood flow. When this happens it is called a  
"pulmonary embolism".

What Are the Symptoms of Deep Vein Thrombosis?

Worryingly, deep vein thrombosis can sometimes be symptom-
less. Other times, the CDC tells us the region around the clot
can be swollen, painful, tender and red.

Deep vein thrombosis is different from a superficial venous
thrombosis (called
phlebitis) because, with phlebitis, the clot
develops in superficial veins that are visible rather than deep
veins. Phlebitis is generally less serious because superficial clots
do not generally dislodge and travel to the lungs and brain.

Causes of Deep Vein Thrombosis

What causes deep vein thrombosis? Deep vein thrombosis can
be caused by numerous factors with one thing in common ---
they impede the healthy circulation of blood and cause blood
clots to form. In fact,
peripheral artery disease, a condition in
which your arteries in your legs become blocked or narrow,
puts you at greater risk for deep vein thrombosis.

One of the leading causes of deep vein thrombosis is being

For example, you can develop deep vein thrombosis simply
from sitting still for long periods of time such as at your desk,
sitting cramped in an airplane seat or even riding for long
distances in a car.   

Prolonged stays in bed either through paralysis or enforced
bed rest can cause deep vein thrombosis.

Most famously, deep vein thrombosis is  associated with long
haul flights and has been christened the “Economy Class
Syndrome,” suggesting that the cramped conditions in
Economy Class can provoke a deep vein thrombosis.

The American Heart Association warns us, however, that this
name is a misnomer. Even first-class and business-class
passengers  get deep vein thrombosis. Moreover, deep vein
thrombosis isn’t solely caused in all cases by sitting still in tight
quarters for many hours but might also be affected by other
factors like low cabin pressure, low humidity and dehydration,
factors that are constant throughout the plane. On the last
factor, dehydration, you should be aware that it is quite easy to
become dehydrated during a flight.

Your thirst mechanism is a poor signal for the true needs of
your body for water. By the time you are thirsty, your body has
already entered a dehydrated state.

Changes in hormone levels such as those occurring during
pregnancy, in the six month period after giving birth and while
taking birth control pills can also promote the development of
blood clots. Injury to veins, inherited blood disorders and
certain cancers can also lead to deep vein thrombosis. Being
obese and smoking can also be factors, since they promote the
build up of toxins that can impede healthy blood circulation and
lead to blood clotting.

How to Prevent and Treat Deep Vein Thrombosis

1. Foot Pumps

A 2006 study carried out by Johns Hopkins University found
that foot pumps are a comfortable and effective way of
promoting the healthy blood circulation in legs that reduces the
risk of blood clots. The study found that foot pumps were
particularly effective for pregnant patients.

Elasticated "Support" Stockings

A 2001 UK study revealed that elasticated medical compression
stockings during long haul air travel can protect against deep
vein thrombosis. The study found that stockings work by
putting a gentle pressure on the ankle and promoting blood
flow through both superficial and deep veins. This encourages
blood flow to the heart and helps prevent blood clots.

Anti-coagulant Drugs

A study published in 2003 by The National Heart, Lung and
Blood Institute, a National Institute of Health (NIH) body found
that long term, low doses of anticoagulant drug warfarin could
prevent the recurrence of blood clots. Contrary to popular
opinion, anticoagulant drugs do not "dissolve" clots. They
merely prevent them from getting bigger.

Injecting or "lacing" the clot

A 2008 pilot study funded by the National Institutes of Health
(NIH), Bethesda, Maryland found that injecting or "lacing" a
blood clot with a fiber-binding thrombolytic (clotbusting) agent
called "activase" (alteplase) can clear blood clots and reduce
the risk of recurrence or bleeding. Preliminary trials suggest
that the pain and swelling associated with deep vein
thrombosis are resolved rapidly with this method. However, the
researchers cautioned that further studies are required to
adequately test the efficacy of this approach.

IVC Filters

IVC (inferior vena cava) filters have been used to treat Deep
Vein Thrombosis since 1868. A 2010 study carried out by
Stanford University found that these filters, sometimes called
umbrellas because they look like umbrellas wire spokes, can
prevent blood clots from moving. The umbrella filters are
inserted into the inferior vena cava of the heart to prevent
blood clots from moving in those cases where anticoagulation
medication has proved ineffective or unsuitable.


The 2010 Stanford University study also noted that surgery can
be an effective treatment for deep vein thrombosis. Surgical
procedures include clot removal and partial interruption of the
inferior vena cava to prevent the clot from reaching the heart.


Nattokinase is a digestive enzyme derived from soy beans that
was discovered by Hiroyuki Sumi in Chicago University in 1980.
Sumi’s subsequent studies found that Nattokinase promotes
healthy blood flow by promoting the body’s production of a
naturally occurring enzyme called plasmin that breaks down
fibrin, an enzyme that causes blood clotting. Nattokinase can be
taken in tablet form or as a powder added to meals.

Lifestyle Changes

A healthy, active lifestyle can help reduce our risk of deep vein
Lose weight, stop smoking and control blood
pressure as lifestyle-based ways to avoid the condition. Here is
a list of
foods that help to lower blood pressure. Exercises such
as flexing your toes and leg raises that work your calves are
especially effective in preventing deep vein thrombosis.

Horse chestnut-An Herb That Helps Deep Vein Thrombosis

A 1977 German study revealed that horse chestnut could be
helpful in treating Deep Vein Thrombosis. Horse chestnut seeds
helps promote healthy circulation due a particular chemical they
contain called aescin.

Gotu Kola

Gotu Kola, a herb used in traditional Indian medicine, helps
improve the condition of the veins and the tissue that connects
them as well as improving blood circulation, according to in
multiple Italian studies carried out in the 1990’s. Gotu Kola can
be ingested as a tea or in tincture form.

Aspirin Can Reduce Risk of Recurrent Deep Vein

If you've had an episode of deep vein thrombosis, studies
show that you're at higher risk for the condition to recur again.
About 20% of those who've had deep vein thrombosis have
another episode within 2 years after discontinuing anti-
coagulant drugs. But there is something you can do to help.  
Take aspirin.

A 2012 study from a researchers at the University of Peruglia in
Italy (led by Drs. Becattini and Agnelli) found that taking a 100
mg of aspirin daily can reduce your risk of a recurrence by

In response to a 2014 study from the University of Australia
which found that aspirin reduced the risk of blood clots by
42%, the American Heart Association cautioned that using
aspirin is not a substitute for  blood-thinning drugs such as
Warfarin, which are up 90% effective in reducing clots.]

Don't Massage If You Have Deep Vein Thrombosis--What Not
To Do

If you feel you are suffering from a Deep Vein Thrombosis, it is
important to consult you medical practitioner right away rather
than embarking on your own course of treatment. What's the
worse thing you can do?  Massage.

Once you suspect you have deep vein thrombosis,  your first
urge might be to rub or massage the area. Numerous health
professionals including the Canadian Association of Therapists
in Complementary Medicine warn against massaging. Massage
could dislodge a bloody clot and cause it to travel elsewhere in
your body such as in your heart, lung or brains. This could
result in a pulmonary embolism, heart attack or stroke.


In 2009, doctors from Stoke Mandeville Hospital in the UK saw
for the first time actually saw a deep vein thrombosis that was
caused by a massage using an echocardiogram:

"There are previous case reports about leg massage causing
pulmonary emboli but this is the first reported event where the
thrombus has been visualised directly."

The doctors noted that there has been a 200% increase of
deep vein thrombosis events worldwide.]

[Meet the
Doctors and Nurses on our Medical Review team.]


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Lovable, gentle giant Dan Blocker
played Hoss Cartwright on the TV
series "Bonanza". Blocker died of a
pulmonary embolism following gall
bladder surgery.