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Proof That Anyone Can Get Deep-Vein Thrombosis

Many people believe that the condition known as deep-vein thrombosis (DVT) only occurs in older people or those who have been confined to bed or are traveling long distances in cramped quarters, like an airplane.

But our primary care doctors in Delray Beach want you to know that anyone is susceptible to this dangerous, potentially deadly condition.

This was underscored late last month when “the fastest man in the world,” British runner Max Burgin, who just turned 20, was forced to withdraw from the World Championships after developing a DVT in his calf.

“I pulled out of the 800m at the World Champs with what we initially thought to be a calf strain,” he posted on Instagram.

“It has turned out to be a deep-vein thrombosis in the right calf, an issue completely unrelated to running or training of any other kind,” he explained.

If it can happen to him, despite his outstanding physical shape, it can happen to anyone. So it’s important to know what signs to look for and the best ways to prevent it from happening to you.

What is DVT?

Deep-vein thrombosis, or DVT, is a blood clot (thrombus) deep within veins that often goes unnoticed until it causes serious symptoms. If it breaks loose, it could travel to the lungs causing a pulmonary embolism, which can be fatal when it blocks blood flow there.

Although DVTs can occur in anyone, it is most prevalent in those over age 60, smokers, those who are overweight or obese, pregnant women, and those with a family history or certain medical conditions that make them more prone to blood clots. 

A classic trigger is extended periods of immobility, whether in bed, in a car on long trips, or on lengthy airplane flights, which restricts limb movement. This in turn prevents the blood from circulating normally, leading to clotting in susceptible individuals.

A 2019 study in the Medical Journal of Australia warned doctors to be on the alert for this condition because the signs and symptoms are “non-specific” and therefore difficult to diagnose.

What are the symptoms?

The classic symptoms of DVT can be subtle and include:

  • swelling in one or both legs
  • pain, soreness or cramping in the leg
  • red or discolored skin on the leg
  • visibly swollen veins that are red, hard, or tender to the touch
  • a feeling of warmth in the leg

If it breaks free and travels to the lung, the warning signs of a pulmonary embolism include:

  • sudden shortness of breath
  • feeling lightheaded or dizzy, or fainting
  • chest discomfort or pain that worsens with a deep breath or cough
  • pain in the shoulder, arm, back, or jaw
  • rapid pulse
  • coughing up blood

The presence of any of these symptoms indicates a medical emergency that requires immediate attention.

Unfortunately, “about 30-40 percent of cases go unnoticed since they don’t have typical symptoms,” according to Dr. Andrei Kindzelski, a National Institutes of Health (NIH) blood disease expert.

That’s why it’s important to be aware of possible symptoms and factors that can increase your risk.

Prevention tips

DVTs can be prevented with a few guidelines.

1. Stay active. A sedentary lifestyle tends to promote blood clots, so it’s important to move frequently. Even sitting at a desk for hours at a time can increase the likelihood of DVTs. It’s important not only to get up and move frequently during the day, but also to engage in regular exercise throughout the week. This can be as rigorous as aerobic activity or as effortless as half-hour walks after dinner.

2. Quit smoking. Tobacco use impairs blood circulation throughout the body, in addition to making the blood “stickier” and more prone to clot.

3. Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight puts pressure on the veins in your pelvis and legs, making them less resilient.

4. Stay hydrated. A lack of fluid leads to thicker blood, so it’s important to drink frequently on long trips, even at the cost of more numerous bathroom trips. One University of Connecticut study found that sufficient hydration cuts the risk of DVTs while traveling by 47 percent.

5. If you’re in a car or plane, recovering from an injury or surgery, or even at your desk and can’t get up and walk around once every hour or so, lower-leg and foot movement can help. Wiggling your toes, raising and lowering your heels with toes on the floor, or stretching or bouncing your legs can cut your risk of blood clots by 33 percent, according to a University of South Carolina study.

6. Avoid crossing your legs, which reduces the free circulation of blood.

Prompt diagnosis and proper treatment can help prevent the complications of blood clots. Contact us immediately if you have any signs or symptoms of DVT or pulmonary embolism.

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