Dangers of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)

Are you at risk?

You sit at your desk all day, you’re confined to your seat on the airplane, or you’re stuck in bed after surgery. These are all prime times a blood clot can form in one of your veins, the blood vessels that carry blood from the body back to the heart. Known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a blood clot isn’t something to take lightly. In some cases you feel nothing, but DVT can also cause painful symptoms with the potential to develop a life-threatening situation called a pulmonary embolism.

What are the symptoms of DVT, who’s at risk, and can it be prevented? You’ve come to the right place to find answers to your questions!

Leg Swelling & Pain

Deep vein thrombosis can occur anywhere in your body, but it’s most often found in the veins of your leg muscles, thighs, or pelvis. Some blood clots cause no symptoms and some mimic other health conditions, but if you ever experience swelling, pain, tenderness, cramping, redness, discoloration, warmth, bulging veins, or tiredness in one or both of your legs, call your doctor ASAP.

A blood clot in your veins can prevent blood from flowing to the heart and harm the vein’s valves that keep blood flowing the right direction. The most dangerous thing about DVT, however, is its potential to leave the leg and travel to the lungs where it blocks blood flow. When this occurs—and it happens in 30 percent of people with DVT—the result is a pulmonary embolism, which is extremely dangerous and requires immediate medical attention.

With symptoms similar to a heart attack, a pulmonary embolism may cause a sudden coughing fit (often with blood), shortness of breath, sharp chest pain, lightheadedness, fainting, or a rapid pulse.

What are the Risk Factors?

Surgery or other injury to your veins is the top cause of the formation of DVT. It is also commonly associated with a sedentary lifestyle. So when you sit around all day or lie in bed for more than three days due to illness or surgery, your leg muscles don’t contract often enough to keep blood flowing. This increases your risk of blood clots and all the complications that come with them.

Other risk factors for DVT include a blood-clotting disorder (your blood clots too easily), pregnancy, birth control pills, hormone replacement therapy, smoking, obesity, cancer, a history of heart problems, paralysis, a broken leg, being over age 60, a family history of DVT or pulmonary embolism, and inflammatory bowel disease. But you don’t have to fall prey to the condition!

Can You Lower Your Risk?

As you read the list above, did you start to get worried? Maybe you’re overweight, smoke, and take birth control pills. Or perhaps you travel a lot, are over 60, and have a family history of DVT. The more risk factors you have, the greater your chances of developing DVT, but like most health conditions there are preventative measures you can take to lower your risk.

For starters, get as much physical activity as possible. This means exercising on a regular basis, moving around throughout the day, pointing and flexing your feet while on a long flight, making frequent stops on extended car rides, and avoiding crossing your legs while seated. Prevention may also require you to stop smoking and do what’s necessary to lose weight.

Following surgery, take the medications your doctor prescribes to help prevent blood clots and after a DVT diagnosis, carefully follow your treatment plan, which usually includes medications, lifestyle changes, and/or surgery.