DVT or deep vein thrombosis is estimated to affect as many as 900,000 people each year in the United State. Out of that number, 60,000 to 100,000 Americans will die from this condition.
Often thought of as a condition affecting older individuals, more than one in four adults under the age of 50 will be struck with DVT or pulmonary embolism. DVT occurs when a blood clot forms in the deep veins, usually of the pelvis or legs and are dangerous in two ways. First, DVT can be fatal if a blood clot breaks free from the leg veins and travels through the heart and lodges in the arteries of the lung. This complication is known as a pulmonary embolism which causes between 100,000 to 180,000 deaths each year in the U.S. Second, because blood clots can permanently damage the veins, as many as half of DVT survivors can experience long-term leg pain, heaviness and swelling that can progress to difficulty in walking, changes in skin color, and open leg sores known as ulcers.
The problem of DVT is that the symptoms can be vague. A person might be experiencing pain or a feeling of not being able to get enough air. This can make it difficult sometimes for a doctor to recognize the possibility of the issue being DVT.
Since the symptoms of both DVT and pulmonary embolism may be missed, the most important thing is to emphasize prevention. Doing so can help one avoid a life-threatening situation. Here are 6 important steps everyone can do:
1. Know your family history
A good working knowledge of family medical history is vital as it can be a possible predictor of what a person may be at a greater risk for. As the number of close relatives who have had a blood clot rise, so does one’s risk of DVT. Anyone having two or more siblings with DVT has a 50-fold increased risk compared to someone else with no siblings affected. Anyone with a strong family history of blood clots needs to let their doctor be aware of this as they may think twice before prescribing hormones or they may give a longer course of anticlotting drugs after surgery.
2. Reach a healthy body weight
Obesity can more than double the risk of DVT. This is especially true in women over five foot six and men six feet or taller. Tall people have to pump blood farther against the force of gravity, which may reduce blood flow in the legs and raise the risk of clotting.
3. After surgery
Often a doctor may prescribe medications to prevent DVT from forming both before and after surgery. Wearing special elastic stockings or inflatable boots to squeeze muscles helping to keep blood flowing will often be used while in the hospital to reduce the risk of DVT. Most people are encouraged to move around as soon as possible after surgery or being confined to a bed after an illness.
4. During pregnancy
If a woman has a strong family history of DVT, needs bed rest or likely to have a cesarean birth, she may be prescribed medication to prevent DVT.
5. During travel
Anytime a person will have to be in a sitting position for many hours while traveling, they can be at risk for DVT. To reduce this chance, a person should walk and stretch at regular intervals, wear special stockings that compress the legs below the knee to prevent blood clots from forming (consult with a doctor before wearing these), wear loose fitting clothing, and drink lots of water. It is advisable to get up and walk around every 2-3 hours. There are also exercises one can do while sitting to keep blood movement flowing – raising and lowering heels while keeping toes on the floor, raising and lowering toes while keeping heels on the floor, and tightening and releasing your leg muscles.
6. Wearing compression stockings
These help prevent swelling associated with DVT and are worn from the feet up to the knees. The very tight pressure these stockings provide reduce the chance of the blood from pooling and clotting. A doctor will give advice on how frequently to wear them throughout the day.