Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Get up and move

Imagine one day you are experiencing shortness of breath.  Suddenly, small tasks where you really aren't exerting yourself have you completely out of breath. Walking to your front door makes you feel like you have run 10 miles.

"I must be tired," you tell yourself. You decide to go to sleep.

You wake up the next day, only this time it's worse.  Gasping for air, you go to work anyway.  Then you get to work, walk all the way up to the door of your job and drop to your knees, grabbing your chest.  You're breathing in and out as fast as you can, but not getting any oxygen.

You make it to the emergency room and you live.  But when they find out what's wrong, it's something you never thought would happen to you. You have a pulmonary embolism, or blood clots in the lungs.  The arteries in your lungs have become blocked with blood clots and you are slowly suffocating.

That was exactly what happened to me...but I was lucky: I survived.  The same can not be said for Dwight Arrington Myers, better known by his stage name "Heavy D."  Today his cause of death was announced: pulmonary embolism. 


This is very sad because he had actually lost a bunch of weight and was on the way back to good health.  But a long flight in an airplane, along with that extended period of sitting, did him in.  


About 15% of sudden death cases are caused by pulmonary embolism.  A large number of those people just drop dead with no hope of being saved. And going to the doctor or hospital often doesn't help.  The symptoms are so non-specific, they are often missed.  I went to the doctor a couple weeks before my episode complaining that I didn't feel right.  My doctor missed it.

The only way to detect a pulmonary embolism is to scan the lungs and look for it.  So what can you do?  If you ever have shortness of breath, go to the emergency room and demand a CT scan on your lungs. But here's a better idea:  avoid having it happen period.



If you have a job where you sit for long periods of time, get up and move.  At least once an hour, get up and walk around.  Same if you are on a long plane ride. Get up and go to the bathroom once an hour, even if just to look in the mirror. Move around.  Most of the time, the blood clots form in the legs due to being immobile and travel to the lungs. 


I'm surprised we don't hear more about this, because it happens all the time.  Serena Williams, the famous tennis player, was operated on to remove a pulmonary embolism.  She was lucky.  In 2003, NBC News TV reporter David Bloom died while being embedded with a military unit in Iraq.  The long hours sitting in a tank caused his fatal pulmonary embolism.  


I now take blood thinners every day, probably for the rest of my life.  Don't let this happen to you: get up and move.


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