In 2011, 20-year old Chris Staniforth died from a pulmonary embolism after playing video games the day before. Staniforth, who had recently been accepted to the game design program at Leicester University in England, spent more than ten hours a day playing the game Halo.
Unfortunately, deaths from pulmonary embolisms after sitting for long periods, like Staniforth’s, are rising. In fact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 30 percent of people who develop a pulmonary embolism, caused when a deep vein thrombosis in the leg moves through the bloodstream and blocks oxygen to the lungs, will not survive.
Recently, a major study by the Japan Analysis Cohort Study found that middle-aged adults who sit in front of the television for five or more hours a night are at a 6.5-fold increased risk of a fatal pulmonary embolism, compared with those who watch less than 2.5 hours per night. The study, headed by Toru Shirakawa, a medical student at Osaka University, followed 86,024 Japanese participants between the ages of 40 and 79 years and monitored their television and sitting behaviors for 18.4 years.
While five hours of television may seem extreme, unfortunately it’s not. A recent Nielsen study reported that the average American watches 4.85 hours of television every night.
“The take-home message is this: Public awareness of the risk of pulmonary embolism from lengthy leg immobility is essential,” said Shirakawa in his study. “To prevent the occurrence of pulmonary embolism… take a break, stand up, and walk around during the television viewing. And drink water to prevent dehydration; that is also important.”
Pulmonary Embolism & Sitting: Who Is At Risk?
Shirakawa’s study showed that the risk of developing a life threatening pulmonary embolism is greatest in those between the ages of 40 and 59 who sit and watch television, or sit in front of a computer, for at least five hours. Other factors that can increase the chances of developing PE include:
- Heart disease: Clots can develop easier in those with heart disease
- Cancer: Certain cancers can increase substances in the body that cause blood to clot
- Smoking: Tobacco use increases the body’s chances of developing clots
- Obesity: Being overweight can cause blood clots, especially in smokers and women
- Pregnancy: When a baby presses on veins in the pelvis it can slow blood return from the legs and cause a clot
Symptoms of a Pulmonary Embolism
According to Staniforth’s roommate, the night before he died he complained of chest pain before he went to bed. If you sit for long periods of time working at a computer, watching television, or playing video games, it’s important to know the signs of a pulmonary embolism, especially if you have added risk factors like being overweight, smoking, or are pregnant.
Signs of a Pulmonary Embolism Include:
- Shortness of breath that gets increasingly worse
- Severe chest pain when you take deep breaths, eat, or move quickly
- Cough that may produce blood or blood-streaked (brown) sputum.
If you experience any of these symptoms, visit your doctor or the nearest emergency room immediately. And if you sit for prolonged periods remember to take breaks and walk regularly. Even better: cut back on the amount of TV you’re watching and exercise instead to stay healthy.