What do long plane rides, being trapped at your desk for hours on end and road trips all have in common? While not a place you want to be stuck with a screaming baby is correct, they also put you at risk for DVT. DVT is a deep vein thrombosis, or blood clot, and it’s more common than you may think. Over 200,000 cases are reported each year in the US. And, according to stoptheclot.org, more people die from blood clots every year than from AIDS, breast cancer and car crashes combined.
“DVT is a serious, life-threatening condition, so it’s important to know what puts you at risk,” says Dr. Jeffrey Braxton, Director of Venous Intervention at CiC Vein Center. One of the best things you can do to protect yourself from a life threatening blood clot is to know what can lead to a DVT. Sitting for long periods of time, major surgery or trauma, being overweight, taking birth control pills, having varicose veins, smoking and a family history of clots are some of the factors.
“Once you are aware of the causes, you can be proactive. For example, if you have varicose veins, those raised, dark blue veins on your legs, you should see a doctor. Treating varicose veins will help reduce your risk,” explains Dr. Braxton. “If you sit for long periods of time, and when you travel, get up and move every two to three hours. Stand up, stretch and walk around a bit to get your blood flowing.”
Leg cramps, warmth, redness, leg pain that gets worse when you bend your foot and blue or white color change of your skin are all signs to pay attention to. Dr. Braxton warns, “Don’t ignore calf pain or leg swelling especially if it’s only on one side. It could be a sign of DVT.”
DVT becomes life threatening when the clot breaks free and travels through your blood stream. When it reaches your pulmonary arteries it forms a pulmonary embolism (PE), preventing the blood from flowing properly through your lungs. This decreases the amount of oxygen absorbed and delivered to your body. “If you have any chest pain, sudden shortness of breath or are coughing up blood, go to the emergency room,” says Dr. Braxton. “It could be a PE.”
As soon as you notice any symptoms of DVT you should see a doctor. Blood clots are very treatable. First line therapy includes anticoagulation medication that reduces clotting. In some cases, a minimally invasive procedure called a thrombolysis can be done to break up the clot. “The important thing is to seek treatment right away,” advises Dr. Braxton. “Advanced vein management can address the problem.”
He recommends seeing a vein specialist if you have any signs of varicose veins or a history of DVT in your family. “Fixing the underlying problem that may cause a DVT can have a big impact on your life.”