Can a Fitbit help prevent blood clot complications in kids?

Dr. Zia alongside four children in a FitBit exercise.
Dr. Zia is using the popular Fitbit activity tracker to find out if something as simple as an increase in physical activity could help prevent blood clot complications in kids.

If you’re a parent, it might be difficult to imagine your child being hospitalized for a serious illness. But conditions as familiar as pneumonia, asthma, and acute bronchitis are common reasons for hospitalizations in young children, and they can sneak up on you at any time.

Many hospitalized kids receive a “central line,” which is a catheter placed in an arm or neck vein so doctors and nurses can administer intravenous drugs more easily (children’s veins are so tiny, a central line is often necessary to avoid multiple needle sticks).

While placement of a central line is usually life-saving, one of the downsides is the risk of a deep vein thrombosis (DVT), or a blood clot. In fact, about 1 in 200 hospitalized children develop a blood clot, and up to 30 percent of those children have complications related to that blood clot within two to five years, despite anticoagulation or blood thinner therapy. Complications can include pain, swelling, cramping, and reduced quality of life – none of which any parent wants for a child.

As a pediatric hematologist, I treat patients with clotting or bleeding disorders. In my research, I’m focusing on that shockingly high percentage of children who experience life-changing complications down the road that are related to their blood clot. Could something as simple as an increase in physical activity help prevent these complications? I’m using the popular Fitbit activity tracker to help me find out.

Armed with data

Through previous research, we know that being active increases the blood supply, promotes the growth of good blood vessels, counteracts damage (to the muscles) already done, and relieves some of the pain and other problems kids experience after a DVT. But how much activity do kids need?

In my current study, I’m recruiting children and young adults ages 7 to 21 who have had a lower-extremity DVT. Participants in the study are randomly placed in either the “standard of care” group or the “intervention” group. The intervention group participants will wear a Fitbit for 16 weeks. In the first four weeks, participants will go about their normal activities, and we will monitor their daily steps. Once I see what their routine is, I will ask participants to increase their average steps by 25 percent and maintain that increase for eight weeks. In the last four weeks of the study, they are free to do whatever they want.

Pretty simple, right? This study isn’t complicated, but in order to make changes in health care, we need evidence-based information that goes beyond self-reported data. The intention here is that the Fitbit will help me get the data I need to develop an exercise regimen as a treatment method that prevents complications after a DVT in children.

While I’m the only one using the Fitbit for this specific type of study, I’m not the only one using the Fitbit in clinical research. In a quick search on clinicaltrials.gov, more than 70 trials that are currently recruiting patients mention the term Fitbit. I think that’s pretty cool.

If you’re interested in my Fitbit study or know someone who might be, please call 214-456-3359 for more information.

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