Game over? Hours of video gaming may lead to VTE

By John Murphy, MDLinx
Published March 26, 2018

Key Takeaways

Gamer’s thrombosis—a venous thromboembolism (VTE) that occurs after prolonged video game play—is thought to be a rare occurrence. But consider that the average video game player in the United States plays 13 hours a week, and “extreme gamers” (4% of the total gaming population) play as much as 48.5 hours a week, according to 2010 data.

Even so, kids who play a lot of video games aren’t as likely to get a deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism, right?

Surprisingly, the average gamer isn’t a kid but a 35-year-old, according to statistics from the video game industry. Also surprising: Adult women make up a significantly greater portion (31%) of the game-playing population than boys under age 18 (18%).

In other words, it’s not only adolescents who play video games—it’s mostly adults, some of whom play a lot.

One of the first identified cases of gamer’s thrombosis, reported in 2004, occurred in a 24-year-old man who died from a VTE after playing an internet computer game for about 80 consecutive hours.

A separate case study from 2013 described a 31-year-old man who presented to the hospital with leg pain and swelling. He reported playing PlayStation while lying in bed for almost 8 hours a day for 4 days in a row. The pain and swelling had begun on the second day, but he continued playing for another 2 days until finally seeking medical attention.

Video games and VTE risk

Prolonged immobility, as found in these cases, is one risk factor for the development of gamer’s thrombosis. But other factors related to long hours of gaming could also contribute to the pathogenesis of VTE. According to the authors of the latter case study: “Previous research has shown an increase in blood pressure and heart rate with exposure to violent video games as part of the physiological stress response, suggesting an association between acute psychological stress and a hypercoagulable state.”

They added, “The prolonged period of mental stress associated with video gaming could further increase the risk of venous thrombosis in the setting of seated immobility.”

Because the amount of time that players spend on video games continues to increase, video gaming should now be considered part of the risk assessment for VTE, the authors advised.

“I think gamer’s thrombosis will be more recognized in the future as more and more of these cases are reported,” said Alan Lucerna, DO, assistant director of the emergency department at Jefferson Health-Stratford, in Stratford, NJ. He recently diagnosed such a patient.

Video gaming is now a $30 billion industry, he noted, and players range in age from infants to the elderly. With the availability and popularity of video games, players need to be warned of this danger and learn to play for shorter periods—or at least take breaks during game play.

“Like the mantra in toxicology: ‘It’s not the poison, it’s the dose,’” Dr. Lucerna said.

So, if you’re in the market for video games, look for those that promote movement, he recommended.

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