Time to press pause? Binge-watching may lead to blood clots, research says

Family of four sitting on sofa watching TV

Before you post up on the couch and click on your favorite HBO, Netflix or Amazon Prime series, you’ll want to read this. A vascular specialist weighs in on a recent study that may link binge-watching to blood clots…Woman pointing remote control at TV

“Are you still watching?”

You’ve probably seen this message when you’re several episodes into an addictive TV series on your favorite streaming service. And if you are deep into your binge-watching session, you probably click ‘yes’ when you see that message without even thinking twice! But you might want to think twice before selecting that answer in the future.

A recent study published in the Journal of Thrombosis and Thrombolysis looked at the potential increased risk of venous thromboembolism (VTE), a term referring to blood clots in the veins, due to TV viewing. These types of blood clots can be fatal if they break off and travel to the heart or lungs.

What is venous thromboembolism (VTE)? Venous thromboembolism (VTE) refers to a blood clot that starts in a vein. It is the third leading vascular diagnosis after heart attack and stroke. There are two types: deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism (PE).

Man in white lab coat and bow tie. Headshot of Dr. Ryan O'Kelley.

Dr. Ryan O’Kelley, a vascular interventional radiologist at HCA Healthcare affiliate Memorial Health in Savannah, Georgia

“Deep-vein thrombosis, or DVT, is a clot that forms in the deep veins of the body, such as the femoral veins in the legs or the brachial veins in the arms,” explains Dr. Ryan O’Kelley, a vascular interventional radiologist at HCA Healthcare affiliate Memorial Health in Savannah, Georgia.

“It is more likely to occur in the legs and is thought to occur due to alterations in blood flow (such as being sedentary) in a vein that has some sort of injury or irregularity and can be accelerated by alterations in the blood,” adds Dr. O’Kelley.

The study included 15,000 patients between the ages of 45-64, and analyzed the frequency of their TV viewing. As part of the study participants estimated their individual frequency of TV viewing as ‘never or seldom’, ‘sometimes’, ‘often’ or ‘very often’.

Participants were then monitored for VTEs. Researchers found that participants who reporting their TV viewing frequency as ‘very often’ had a 70% higher risk of experiencing a VTE than those who reported their viewing frequency as ‘never or seldom’.

While the study did not conclude that binge-watching television specifically increases the risk of developing a VTE, the sedentary lifestyle promoted by binge-watching does.

“A sedentary lifestyle is associated with increased likelihood of weight gain and its associated consequences, coronary heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, stroke and VTE,” said Dr. O’Kelley.

Woman laying in bed looking at tablet and wearing headphones

Dr. O’Kelley shares more on the potential risk binge-watching has on developing a VTE.

In short, what does the study say about binge-watching and its link to blood clots?

The researchers don’t know the specific amount of time participants spent watching TV in each of the five reporting categories, so the study can’t directly link binge-watching to increased risk of VTE. However, the study does indicate that the more that participants felt they watched TV, the more likely they were to develop a VTE.

Who was found to be most at-risk in this study? Why?

The participants most at risk were obese individuals who report watching TV “very often.” This is likely due to an increased sedentary lifestyle with limited or no exercise.

What are the potential cardiovascular health implications from sitting too much in general?

A sedentary lifestyle is associated with increased likelihood of weight gain and its associated consequences, coronary heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, stroke and VTE (as identified in the study).

How many people does venous thromboembolism affect each year?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 900,000 people are affected by venous thromboembolism, each year in the United States. This includes those affected by both deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism (PE). Further, approximately 60,000-100,000 die of DVT and PE each year.

How is deep-vein thrombosis treated?

Treatment mostly consists of starting the patient on a blood thinner but occasionally a patient requires additional treatment using a mechanical means of removing the clot. Sometimes a patient requires a metal filter in their inferior vena cava, a large vein that delivers blood to the heart, to prevent clots in their legs from going to their lungs (pulmonary embolus).

How do you prevent blood clots?

Reducing the amount of time one remains sedentary is a major step in reduction. If you have family history of blood clots, determining the underlying cause and treating it can reduce risk of development (sometimes with a blood thinner). Compression stockings are also sometimes used to prevent DVT and to help with symptoms.

Who’s most at risk for developing blood clots from binge-watching?

The study found the most at risk were obese persons who watched TV very often.

How long is too long to sit and watch TV?  

Being sedentary for more than 2-3 hours is too long. People should aim to get up and move around every 30 minutes to an hour.

Do you have any tips to prevent binge-watching or sitting too long?

Getting up for a few minutes between each episode if binge-watching a multi episode show or at least getting up for a few minutes after a movie would help. Instead of binge-watching an entire show, spread it out over more days to decrease how long you are sitting in front of the television.

So next time your streaming app asks if you are still watching, take a moment, move around and stretch before starting the next episode!

Woman holding TV remote control in one hand and phone in the other hand

Part of HCA Healthcare’s South Atlantic Division, Memorial Health serves 35 counties across southeast Georgia and southern South Carolina. Memorial Health University Medical Center (MHUMC) is a 612-bed hospital in Savannah, Georgia, including the region’s only Level 1 trauma center, the region’s only children’s hospital, and the Savannah campus of Mercer University School of Medicine.

About HCA Healthcare

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