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Embolism Risk Increased With Sedentary Lifestyle

July 5, 2011

Women who spend much of their time sitting down after work may have an increased likeliness of having a potentially fatal blood clot on the lungs, according to a new study.

The study, published in the British Medical Journal, carried out on nurses in the USA, highlights that a sedentary lifestyle can lead to a blood clot that travels up from the deep veins in the leg and eventually into the lung, a pulmonary embolism.

An editorial published with the study acknowledges the risk is small, equivalent to seven extra cases per 10,000 person years, and only slightly higher than seen in users of oral contraceptives or long haul airplane travel. The findings, however, could have major health ramifications, reports The Guardian.

Previous studies have established a relationship between physical activity and pulmonary embolism, there is up to now, little data linking the condition with physical inactivity.

Dr. Christopher Kabrhel and colleagues studied almost 70,000 female nurses over an 18-year period providing detailed information about their lifestyle habits by completing biennial questionnaires.

The findings conclude that the risk of pulmonary embolism is more than two times higher in women who spend most time sitting (more than 41 hours a week outside of work) compared with those who spend less time sitting (less than 10 hours a week outside of work).

The results are bolstered after taking account of factors such as age, body mass index and smoking, highlighting the evidence that physical inactivity is a major reason for this condition.

The study also found that inactivity correlated with heart disease and high blood pressure. “Prolonged periods of physical inactivity could be one of the hidden mechanisms that link arterial disease and venous disease,” James Douketis, director of vascular medicine at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario in Canada, told The Guardian.

In the accompanying editorial, researchers conclude that the study, “reinforces the notion that prolonged inactivity increases the risk of venous thromboembolism, and it shows how this occurs in everyday life.”

The findings also indirectly support the use of preventive interventions for at-risk people with prolonged immobility. It is already known that people who play sport and are physically more active are less likely to suffer pulmonary embolism.

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