A call to all long-haul drivers: Prolonged sitting in vehicles increases the risk for venous thromboembolisms

If you’re employed in a job that requires you to sit or drive for a long time, like driving long-haul trucks, make it a habit to take frequent breaks to do some stretching exercises.

According to a group of Japanese physicians, the risk of developing venous thromboembolisms (VTE) increases when people remain inactive for a long time.

The physicians sent a letter to the editor of the Canadian Journal of Cardiology, warning about the “risks and clinical significance for individuals who remain seated and immobile in vehicles for prolonged periods.” In the letter, the Japanese physicians highlighted the need for “preventive awareness activities and education” about VTE.

VTE is a deadly medical condition where a blood clot forms, usually in the deep veins of the leg, groin, or arm (also called deep vein thrombosis [DVT]) and travels through the circulatory system. This clot can get stuck in the lungs, resulting in a pulmonary embolism (PE). Both DVT and PE are collectively referred to as VTE.


Based on earlier reports in Japan, there has been a significant increase in sudden cardiac death after natural disasters like earthquakes. However, not much is known about the risk connected to other secondary health conditions, like acute cerebral and cardiovascular diseases.

In particular, the risk of VTE caused by being confined in a car remains to be seen.

There has been an increase in the occurrence of night aftershocks after the Kumamoto earthquake in April 2016. Since most individuals were apprehensive about going back to their homes, a lot of them chose to evacuate instead. While some people safely reached public evacuation shelters, others had to camp overnight in their vehicles.

To examine the impact of staying seated in vehicles for long periods of time, the Kumamoto Earthquake Thrombosis and Embolism Protection (KEEP) project investigators collated data gathered in the aftermath of the Kumamoto earthquakes.

The researchers determined that there was an “epidemic” of blood clots that developed in the legs, and traveled to the lungs in some cases, in the majority of individuals who evacuated.

After studying questionnaires from 21 local medical institutions, the researchers confirmed that at least 51 patients were hospitalized after the earthquakes because of VTE. Out of the 51 cases, at least 42 patients (or 82.4 percent) spent the night in a vehicle.

In 35 cases, VTE was complicated by pulmonary thromboembolism (PTE). (Related: Inactivity doubles your risk of blood clots: New study says sitting around, like when watching TV, raises risk even in those who exercise.)

Lead investigator Dr. Seiji Hokimoto said that to significantly reduce the number of patients who develop VTE, professional medical teams must spearhead preventive awareness activities.

Dr. Hokimoto, who is from the Department of Cardiovascular Medicine, Graduate School of Medical SciencesKumamoto University, also noted that education in the media about the risk of developing the condition after spending the night in a vehicle and raising awareness of evacuation centers are crucial to lowering the risk of VTEs.

Dr. Stanley Nattel, editor-in-chief of the Canadian Journal of Cardiology, added that this emphasizes the risks linked to “spending prolonged periods immobilized in a cramped position.” He added that this is a critical reminder of a public health point.

Dr. Nattel concluded that individuals must constantly get up and walk around even when traveling by plane or when staying in a vehicle for an extended period of time to prevent blood clots from forming.

Tips to prevent VTE

Aside from not sitting for a long stretch of time, here are some additional tips that can help prevent VTE:

  • Avoid excessive or long-term alcohol consumption or stop drinking alcohol altogether.
  • If forced to be inactive (like when stuck in traffic or traveling by plane), do arm, hand, foot, and leg stretches as frequently as possible. Other periods of immobility, like bed rest or during hospitalization, also require these various stretching exercises.
  • Increase physical activity and exercise regularly.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Wear comfortable and loose-fitting clothing.

Read more articles about other cardiovascular diseases and tips on how to prevent them at Heart.news.

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