Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) occurs when thickened blood clumps together (called a clot) in a deep vein in the thigh, calf, or pelvis and causes swelling or pain. This can be an inherited condition, or it can be caused by surgery, serious injuries, inflammation, or immune responses. Although DVT is not common, it can become dangerous if the clot breaks loose and begins traveling in the body (called an embolus). It can settle into the lungs, heart, or other areas and cause severe damage to the organ and possibly death, all within hours.
Certain medical conditions may contribute to a person’s risk of developing a blood clot. These include extra weight, heart failure, pregnancy, smoking, increased age, kidney problems, and cancer. Even particular medications can cause an increased risk of clots such as hormone replacement, tamoxifen, and birth control pills. When there is a combination of these conditions, for example a person who uses one of these medications who is also a smoker or is obese, the risk multiplies.
Surgery and Deep Vein Thrombosis
After a major surgery, tissue debris may move into veins, damaging the walls of the veins. This would include any surgery that reduces blood flow to a part of the body (hip, knee, leg, abdomen, chest, calf) and orthopedic surgery such as hip replacement. Along with the surgery is the recovery period afterwards that often necessitates extended periods of inactivity or bed rest, causing the blood to flow more slowly.
Lifestyle Conditions and Deep Vein Thrombosis
As we age, DVT risk increases especially over the age of 60. Sitting for extended periods of time such as working at a computer station or long car trips can be factors in developing deep vein thrombosis. Having a history of heart attack, stroke, or congestive heart failure can certainly increase risk of DVT. Having any condition (such as a broken leg) that requires bed rest or immobility for more than three days will increase your risk of blood clot.
How Do I Know I Have a DVT?
Approximately 50 percent of the cases of deep vein thrombosis have no symptoms. Therefore if you have any of the following symptoms and suspect DVT, contact your medical healthcare professional immediately:
- Pain or tenderness in legs (may occur while standing or walking)
- Swelling in one or both legs
- Warmth in the suspected leg
- Red or discolored skin in the suspected leg
- Leg fatigue
Remember, the clot can break free and travel to other parts of your body, and it can be fatal. A sign of pulmonary (lung) embolism is sudden coughing which may bring up blood, shortness of breath, and/or severe lightheadedness. When this occurs, seek help immediately.
Deep Vein Thrombosis Prevention
Taking certain steps to prevent DVT can prolong your life and save you from sustaining a lifetime use of anticoagulation medications (blood thinners) which are necessary to prevent new blood clots from forming. To lower your risk of deep vein thrombosis:
- Be active and exercise regularly. You don’t have to be a runner, just move! Walking, riding bike, swimming, tennis, yoga are all great ways to keep active.
- Eat a healthy diet and manage your weight.
- Quit smoking if you are a smoker. Using nicotine patches, sprays, or gum, along with support groups will make this easier.
- Check your blood pressure regularly, and lower it if necessary.
- Review your family history related to any blood-clotting problems and make your doctor aware of the findings.
- Consider alternatives to birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy.
- Drink plenty of fluids.
- When traveling long distances on planes or trains, avoid medications or alcohol and stay well-hydrated.
- Stand up and walk around when working at a desk or sitting in a plane for extended hours.
- Flex and extend your ankles and knees, avoid crossing the legs, and change positions frequently when sitting.
- Wear loose-fitting and comfortable clothing.
More information on DVT: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/deepveinthrombosis.html