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4:13 PM, Feb 27, 2020

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How summer travel may affect COVID-19 survivors

Driving a Car
Posted at 9:33 PM, Jul 21, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-25 15:01:08-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Summer trips are back on many families’ calendars, but doctors hope they plan for a few extra stops.

“It can be a life-threatening condition,” said Dr. Malik Khan, a pulmonologist at Spectrum Health. “You cannot predict how bad of a clot you get.”

Dr. Khan explained to FOX 17 Thursday that when people travel during a lengthy plane or car ride, they often sit in cramped positions that slow the blood flow to their legs.

This can contribute to the formation of blood clots. Dr. Khan says those blood clots can break up and travel to a person’s lungs, leading to a pulmonary embolism.

“At a minimum, depending on how acute it is, usually most of these cases are done in an ER setting rather than an outpatient setting because you need to run some tests, you need to get a CT Scan to actually diagnosis it, and then you need to start on medication,” Dr. Khan added.

Dr. Khan said it’s usually not something to worry about in healthy adults, but a May study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found COVID-19 survivors, even those who had a mild case, had twice the risk of developing a pulmonary embolism in the year after infection compared to people who never caught COVID-19.

The study included 353,164 COVID-19 patients and 1,640,776 controls. The findings were compiled through an analysis of a large electronic health record database that compared outcomes in people ages 18 and older who received a COVID-19 diagnosis in a clinic, emergency department or hospital, with people from the same settings who were not sick with the virus.

“Out of the 26 conditions they saw, this one was the one they saw most frequently,” Dr. Khan said. “That is a big deal. It also correlates with clinical practices.”

More research needs to be done to better understand the “why.” Other research suggests the correlation, too.

Symptoms of a pulmonary embolism include shortness of breath, chest pain and leg swelling.

Other risk factors include heart disease, cancer, surgery, smoking, pregnancy and being overweight.

Pulmonary embolisms can lead to hypertension later in life.

To prevent blood clots when traveling, you can do the following:

  • Wear compression stockings
  • Elevate your legs
  • Physical activities
  • Drink plenty of fluids

“The longer your travel time is, the risk is increased,” Dr. Khan explained. “Every hour or so, even if [you’re] just sitting in your car, lift your heels up a few times – five, ten times. Move your legs. You don’t have to do much more. Then, every couple of hours or so, take a little break, a couple of minutes of walking around.”

To read the full study, click here.

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