A Healthy Bet (1) – Deep Venous Thrombosis
As it appeared in Ante Up Magazine – Nov. 2008
By Frank Toscano, M.D.
Answer this one:
You’ve been playing at the same table for the last 5 hours without even a bathroom break. A player in middle position who has you covered opens for three times the big blind. You push with AA. He calls and shows small suited connectors. Your biggest danger now is:
A) he’ll make a straight and you’ll get felted.
B) he’ll make a flush you’ll get felted.
C) a blood clot will break off from behind your knee, travel to your lung and you’ll get permanently felted.
The truth of the matter is that, although your aces may seem to get cracked more often than you believe they should, your real danger from a long poker session is a blood clot.
A blood clot is normally a good thing. When blood is exposed to air, from a cut or scrape, it clots. If it didn’t, even a small cut might turn into a pretty nasty mess.
The real problem occurs when a clot forms in a vein, especially a vein deep within your leg (deep venous thrombosis). The clot can break off, travel up through the chambers on the right side of your heart and lodge in your lung. This “pulmonary embolism” can strain the heart, damage lung cells and actually kill you.
So what causes blood to clot inside a leg vein in the first place? Mainly inactivity. Sitting for long hours with your legs hanging down below you causes the blood to thicken and sludge in various spots in your legs. Eventually a clot can form and, if it breaks off, you’re in trouble. Poker players who have a history of cancer, recent surgery or previous episodes of deep venous thrombosis or pulmonary embolism are particularly at risk.
Prevention is pretty easy. First, get into the habit of frequently contracting your leg muscles while playing. Every time the button passes you (about every 15 or 20 minutes) stretch your leg out straight. First point your toes hard then pull your toes up toward your knee hard. This exercise contracts your quadriceps and your calf muscles and squeezes the stagnant blood out of the veins that run through these muscles. Try not to play footsie under the table with the other players or you may experience a different kind of medical problem.
Next, every time there’s any kind of break in the action, get up and walk around. In tournaments, there’s usually a five minute break every hour. In ring games, just skip a round every so often, stand up and do a few leg exercises. Get up on your toes and rock back on your heels a few times to get the blood flowing again. Do a squat or two and you should be good to go until the next break.
If your ankles tend to swell after long sessions or you have varicose veins, you might want to take some extra precautions. Support hose are a great way to reduce swelling and compress the size of the leg veins leaving less room for stagnant blood to collect. Most medical supply stores carry support hose or you can find them online at places like FootSmart.com. I use them myself. They look just like normal socks and feel great.
Finally, don’t forget that miracle drug, aspirin. Even a single baby aspirin (81 mg.) thins the blood significantly and makes it far more difficult for clots to form. If you are already on a blood thinner like Coumadin or Plavix, or if you have a history of bleeding problems like bleeding ulcers, you should probably check with your own physician before taking aspirin. For the rest of us though, it’s a simple and effective way to reduce the risk of clots.
Anytime you are going to be sitting with your legs below you for long periods of time, whether it’s because you are sitting at a poker boot camp lecture, crammed into an airplane seat on your way to the WSOP or even simply planning a long home game session with your crew, make sure it’s the bad beat that felts you and not a clot.