You’re Not Immune to DVT

March 5th, 2010

I don’t want to make you feel like a hypochondriac, but the truth is that even the young and physically fit may develop deep-vein thrombosis (DVT). It could happen to you, but it’s preventable too.

March is DVT awareness month, so let’s talk about this.

dvt-deadlyWhat’s DVT? It occurs when a blood clot forms inside a deep vein, often in the legs. DVT can be deadly. A complication called pulmonary embolism (PE) occurs with about half of the DVT cases in the United States.

PE, which develops when part of a blood clot breaks loose and travels to the lungs, is fatal in 30% of cases. Each year, DVT affects somewhere around 400,000 Americans.

I recently learned more about DVT from Dr. John Kaufman, Chief of Vascular & Interventional Radiology at Oregon Health & Science University Hospital. Dr. Kaufman travels to educate people on DVT and PE, and he answered some questions via email for me to share with readers.

According to Dr. Kaufman, DVT is more common than we may realize. He says you’re at bigger risk for DVT with increasing age or if:

  • You take birth control pills
  • You have a family history of blood clots
  • You have an inherited blood clotting disorder like Protein C Deficiency
  • You’re immobile for long periods of time (cancer patients, those who’ve had major surgery or endured major trauma)
  • You’ve had DVT in the past
  • You’re taking a long plane ride (8 plus hours)

To help protect yourself against DVT, Dr. Kaufman says it’s wise to stay well hydrated and move your legs often during long car rides or plane trips. You may also want to put on some over-the-counter graded compression stockings to help squeeze the leg veins. And avoid smoking if you take birth control pills. He also advises those with risk factors to speak with their physicians.

While almost half of DVTs are silent, some symptoms may include achy pain in the affected limb, as well as pain when the limb is used. Other symptoms include swelling and tenderness when squeezing the limb. If those symptoms occur along with shortness of breath, pain in the chest, or pain when taking a deep breath, then a pulmonary embolism may have occurred.

DVT can be diagnosed quickly with ultrasound, but a chest CT may be needed to catch PE. DVT is treated with blood thinners and close monitoring. A hospital stay may be required. If you’re diagnosed, Dr. Kaufman notes that it’s important to try to understand why the DVT occurred.

Disclaimer: This post is for educational purposes only. It doesn’t take the place of proper medical care. Please consult your physician immediately if you think you may have DVT or PE.

(Image via stock.xchng)

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