DVT: What you should know about DEEP VEIN THROMBOSIS
We all have been trapped on a plane for hours or stuck in our cars when traveling or when tied up in traffic. You know the feeling of cramped, aching legs, when you can’t wait to be free to get up and stretch your legs and get your blood flowing again. Well, sitting for extended periods of time can be more than an uncomfortable nuisance – it can also result in a potentially very dangerous condition called deep vein thrombosis.
Deep vein thrombosis, or DVT, is a blood clot that forms in a vein deep in the body. Blood clots occur when blood thickens and clumps together. Most deep vein blood clots occur in the lower leg or thigh, but they also can form in other parts of the body. DVT is a serious condition because a blood clot in your vein can break loose, travel through your bloodstream and eventually lodge in your lungs, blocking blood flow (pulmonary embolism).
In about half of the cases of DVT, there are no discernable symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they may include:
• Swelling in the affected leg, including swelling in your ankle and foot.
• Pain in your leg; including pain in your ankle and foot. The pain often starts in your calf and can feel like cramping or a charley horse.
• Warmth over the affected area.
• Changes in your skin color, such as turning pale, red or blue.
If you notice these symptoms it is important to see your doctor for guidance. Your physician will want to take precautions to lessen or prevent the chance your blood clot will dislodge and travel through the bloodstream causing a pulmonary embolism.
Warning Signs of a Pulmonary Embolism
• Unexplained sudden onset of shortness of breath
• Chest pain or discomfort that worsens when you take a deep breath or when you cough
• Feeling lightheaded or dizzy, or fainting
• Rapid pulse
• Coughing up blood
• A sense of anxiety or nervousness
If you develop symptoms of a pulmonary embolism – you should seek medical attention immediately.
Risk Factors for DVT
Blood clots can be caused by many different things, namely, anything that causes your blood not to circulate normally, or clot properly. There are a number of factors that can increase your risk of developing deep vein thrombosis.
• Sitting for long periods of time, such as when driving or flying. When your legs remain still for long periods, your calf muscles don’t contract, which normally helps blood circulate. Blood clots can form in the calves of your legs if your calf muscles aren’t moving. Although sitting for long periods is a risk factor, your chance of developing deep vein thrombosis while flying or driving is relatively low.
• Inheriting a blood-clotting disorder. Some people inherit a disorder that makes their blood clot more easily. This inherited condition may not cause problems unless combined with one or more other risk factors.
• Prolonged bed rest, such as during a long hospital stay, or paralysis. When your legs remain still for long periods, your calf muscles don’t contract to help blood circulate, which can make blood clots develop.
• Injury or surgery. Injury to your veins or surgery can slow blood flow, increasing the risk of blood clots. General anesthetics used during surgery can make your veins wider (dilate), which can increase the risk of blood pooling and then clotting.
• Pregnancy. Pregnancy increases the pressure in the veins in your pelvis and legs. Women with an inherited clotting disorder are especially at risk. The risk of blood clots from pregnancy can continue for up to six weeks after you have your baby.
• Cancer. Some forms of cancer increase the amount of substances in your blood that cause your blood to clot. Some forms of cancer treatment also increase the risk of blood clots.
• Inflammatory bowel disease. Bowel disease, such as ulcerative colitis, increases your risk of DVT.
• Heart failure. People with heart failure are at risk of DVT because a damaged heart doesn’t pump blood as effectively as a normal heart does. This increases the chance that blood will pool and clot.
• Birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy. Birth control pills (oral contraceptives) and hormone replacement therapy both can increase your blood’s ability to clot.
• A pacemaker or a thin, flexible tube (catheter) in a vein. These medical treatments can irritate the blood vessel wall and decrease blood flow.
• A history of deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism. If you’ve had DVT before, you’re more likely to have DVT in the future.
• A family history of deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism. If someone in your family has had DVT or a pulmonary embolism, your risk of developing DVT is increased.
• Being overweight or obese. Being overweight increases the pressure in the veins in your pelvis and legs.
• Smoking. Smoking affects blood clotting and circulation, which can increase your risk of DVT.
• Age. Being over age 60 increases your risk of DVT, though it can occur at any age.
• Being tall. Taller men may be more likely to have blood clots. Taller women do not appear to have an increased risk, perhaps because most women do not typically get as tall.
So what’s the take-away?
Although the symptoms of DVT can be subtle and difficult to detect, when DVT is spotted early and properly treated, the risk of complications is reduced. When left untreated, it may cause severe, even fatal complications. Pulmonary embolism, an extremely serious complication from DVT, kills up to 300,000 people a year in the U.S. – that’s more than breast cancer and AIDS combined!
PreventDVT.org is a website dedicated to educating the public about the symptoms and dangers of DVT. Prevent DVT provides a quick and easy Risk Assessment Tool to help you assess your risk of DVT. Check out your risk factors and print the results to discuss with your physician during your next appointment.