e-thrombosis: When your computer can kill you
Sarawak Tribune - Tuesday, 11 February, 2003

Back to index

PARIS - Doctors say that sitting for long hours at a computer terminal may have the same effect as taking a long-haul flight in cramped seating - it could cause a fatal blood clot.

In research published in the latest issue of the European Respiratory Journal, New Zealand researchers report the case of a 32-year-old man who first suffered a swollen calf, whose pain subsided after 10 days.

In the ensuing weeks, however, he became increasingly breathless when he exerted himself, and then one day lost consciousness.

The cause was a massive blood clot that had formed in his leg veins, broke off and travelled to his lungs - a potentially fatal "deep vein thrombosis" (DVT) iden­tical to that notoriously suffered by travellers on long flights.

The patient used to sit immobile at his computer screen, at work and at home, for 12 hours a day, and on occasions for up to 18 hours.

"He would typically sit for one to two hours, and not infrequently as many as six, without standing up from his work station," say the authors, led by Richard Beasley of the Medical Research Institute of New Zealand, based in Wellington.

"This is the first reported case of an association between repeated prolonged immobility sitting at a computer and life-threatening (lung embolism)," they write.

They suggest the condition be called "e-thrombosis."  DVT as a result of prolonged sitting was first recognised during the Blitz in World War II, when cases of fatal embolisms emerged among Londoners who sat for long periods in deckchairs in air-raid shelters.

More recently, DVT has emerged as a potential, though very remote, risk for travellers on long, intercontinental flights.

It has been dubbed "economy class syndrome" because the phenomenon occurs more frequently among passengers in cramped seating, although researchers say it can occur in any seating where pas­sengers are immobile.

The British high court last month blocked a bid by 55 victims of deep-vein thrombosis who had filed suit against 27 airlines, alleging that the carriers had breached their duty of care because of their cramped seating:

It ruled that the plaintiffs, had no case under the 1929 Warsaw Convention on air travel as DVT was unexpected and could not be considered an accident in the normal operating of an aircraft.

DVT occurs when the flow of blood is restricted in a vein and a clot forms. It can also be caused by poor circulation because of problems such as heart disease, a recent heart attack or stroke, varicose veins, or from inactivity or prolonged bed rest.

Pregnant women, people who are overweight, the elderly, smokers and people with coronary heart disease and certain blood conditions are considered to be most at risk. To prevent it, doctors suggest flexing one's toes and ankles, drinking water and avoiding alcohol, and getting up to stretch one's legs at least once an hour. An aspirin, which helps to thin the blood, can also help. - AFP