Doc warns travelers of deadly clots

June 30, 2010 2:44:49 PM PDT
With summer vacation here, people are piling onto airplanes and into cars to make their getaways.

But few are aware of a serious health risk from those long trips. Now, a local doctor is using his close call to educate others.

Five years ago, neurosurgeon John Ratliff got a first-hand lesson he never dreamed of in medical school.

"One week before I got married I woke up, went out to walk my dog and I just had this feeling of pounding in my chest," said Dr. Ratliff.

Dr. Ratliff had it checked out, and was told the heart palpitations were probably a passing thing.

But the next day he said his leg felt like it was going to explode.

"It was just so tight, and I had such pain. I thought 'I've got DVT," he said.

DVT is deep vein thrombosis, a blood clot in the leg, and part of it had gone to his lung.

After hospital treatment with blood thinners, Dr. Ratliff was OK.

He's now campaigning to increase awareness of DVT - particularly among travelers.

At the time of his clot, Dr. Ratliff was travelling a lot by plane and training for a marathon.

"People theorize that distance running increases your risk of DVT, because it kind of dehydrates you," Dr. Ratliff said.

He says people with low blood pressure also have a higher risk of DVT. Smoking also raises the risk, as does heavy caffeine or drug use.

DVT can be deadly - journalist David Bloom died of one while covering the war in Iraq. Last month, NASCAR driver Brian Vickers was hospitalized with one just before a big race in Dover.

If you'll be sitting a lot - whether at work or travelling - drink plenty of water and get up and move around frequently.

"Do basic stretches, basic stretching exercises, concentrating on moving the muscles in your lower legs. You want to get those muscles pumping. That pumping aids venous return, and helps get blood from your legs up to your heart," said Dr. Ratliff.

Despite his close call, Dr. Ratliff still loves traveling.

Dr. Ratliff has developed an information card he hopes will make their way onto airlines and other means of mass transit, because, "the information is out there. I don't know if that information is getting to the traveling public."

He also has the information on his Facebook page for anyone to print out.

RELATED LINK: Additional information about DVT