Watch for Deep Vein Thrombosis
Because it’s summer and school is out, you and your family may be doing some long-distance traveling this season. So our family practice doctors at Cohen Medical Associates want to acquaint you with a serious condition associated with travel and offer tips on ways to prevent it.
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 study this month 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 challenging aspect of DVT is that it frequently causes no symptoms. When it does, they 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 which requires immediate attention.
DVTs can be prevented with a few commonsense guidelines.
- Know your risk. If you have a family history of blood-clotting disorders or any risk factors for coronary disease, you should be especially watchful for any of the symptoms listed above.
- 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 to engage in regular exercise throughout the week. This can be as rigorous as aerobic activity or as undemanding as half-hour walks after dinner.
- Quit smoking. Tobacco use impairs blood circulation throughout the body, in addition to making the blood “stickier” and more prone to clot.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight puts pressure on the veins in your pelvis and legs, making them less resilient.
- 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.
- Wiggle when you can’t walk. 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. And avoid crossing your legs, which reduces the free circulation of blood.
For more suggestions on ways to cut your risk of DVTs, don’t hesitate to talk to us.