What is Deep Vein Thrombosis?
Deep vein thrombosis affects over 500,000 people a year and proves to be fatal for around 20% of the people affected by it. What is DVT? How can you prevent it?
In 2010 it was estimated that over 500,000 people experienced a DVT. That's nearly 2 out of every 1000 people in the United States. Of the 500,000 people that experienced a DVT in 2010, nearly 1 in 5 died. Roughly 20% of those that died from a DVT died within one month or less of diagnosis.
Sudden death is the first symptom in 25% of people who experience a DVT. That means there is no warning. Among those that do survive, 50% will have long term complications, and 33% will have another DVT within 10 years. These statistics (taken from the CDC) show just how prevalent, deadly, and silent DVT is.
Just because these statistics exist, however, doesn't mean you have to become a part of them. DVT is preventable in a few ways, and most clots can be found with modern day technology. DVT often goes undiagnosed, so the first major step in preventing a deep vein thrombosis for yourself is to go to the doctor.
Before we go over how to prevent a DVT, it's first important to show how a DVT forms. If you haven't figured it out already, a DVT is a blood clot that forms in a deep vein. These are often in the legs, thighs, and pelvis, but may also occur in an arm or other location.
A DVT usually occurs when movement becomes static. Sitting sill for a long time can increase the chance of blood clots forming in the legs. Normally, blood flows freely throughout the body. When sitting still, a blood clot is more likely to form. On occasion, a blood clot will form in a vein and grow before breaking off and being transported to another part of the body.
When a blood clot breaks off and moves throughout the body, it is likely to travel to a smaller vein and get stuck. This in turn cuts off blood flow, which then causes a DVT. This is also referred to as a pulmonary embolism, or PE, when it gets to the lungs.
DVTs are very difficult to treat after they occur, which is why such a huge emphasis is placed on preventing them entirely.
The major symptom of deep vein thrombosis, as mentioned above, is sudden death. Other symptoms may include swelling, tenderness, redness, pain, or a feeling like circulation has been cut off at the site of a DVT. Many people report having no symptoms at all.
In persons that have a pulmonary embolism, symptoms may include shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, a faster than normal heartbeat, anxiety, coughing up blood, and very low blood pressure. A pulmonary embolism can happen without any symptoms of a DVT, or alongside the symptoms of DVT
Your legs may become painful if you have DVT.
If you or someone you know begins to have symptoms that make you think they might be experiencing deep vein thrombosis, it's important to go get medical help immediately. DVT is an emergency and will become life threatening if not treated immediately.
Almost anyone can get a DVT at any time. Certain risk factors do exist that may make them more prevalent, however. This includes the following groups of people:
Persons with an injury to a vein, often caused by broken boned, muscle injuries, or major open surgery to the body.
Persons with slowed blood flow, caused by a sedentary lifestyle, bed confinement, paralysis, and general lack of movement.
Persons with increased estrogen levels, typically due to pregnancy, birth control pills, or hormone replacement therapy
Persons with chronic illnesses like heart and lung disease, cancer, and IBS
Persons with a genetic predisposition to deep vein thrombosis, or a family history of the disease.
Keep in mind that these aren't the only risk factors for DVT, just the major ones. If you feel like you are at risk for a DVT then it's important to speak with a medical professional immediately as it may save your life. Remember, DVTs are often a silent killer!
DVT can be prevented relatively easily compared to other diseases. The main way to prevent a DVT is by following a healthy diet and keeping yourself in shape. Better blood flow means less of a risk for clots. If you are unable to exercise, be sure to move around as often as possible. Following a surgery or injury where you may be bedridden, it's even more important to move around, as soon as possible. This will help prevent the formation of clots that might form while your body is not as active.
It's especially important to move while wearing a cast. It's easy to become sedentary while injured.
Persons who are in a high risk group for a DVT may want to talk to their doctor about the use of compression stockings or a DVT machine like the VPULSE DVT machine from Cothera. The mechanical stimulation of the legs can help increase bloodflow and decrease the likelihood of a deep vein thrombosis.
Medication may be another option for persons with a high risk of developing a DVT. Your doctor can prescribe anticoagulants like coumadin, heparin, warfarin, or even an over the counter drug like aspirin. These anticoagulents help prevent clots from forming, but do put you at risk for bleeding more even when it's just a minor scrape or bruise.
If you sit for more than 2 hours a day, get up and walk around for a while. Exercise your legs by moving your feet and legs while you're seated, or tightening and releasing your leg muscles. DVTs seem to be especially prevalent during periods of travel, so make sure you try to move around while on a plane or train to your holiday getaway.
The best way to reduce the risk of a DVT is to maintain a healthy weight and avoid a sedentary lifestyle.
DVT is a deadly and silent disease. It's important to take preventative steps to try and keep yourself out of the risk group for the disease. More importantly, if you feel that you are at risk for dvt, talk to your doctor immediately. Deep vein thrombosis is a very serious condition and should not be taken lightly.