Are you at risk for a blood clot?
Blood clots are an all too common health condition. They can happen to anyone, at any age. How common are they? It’s estimated that one person each minute will be diagnosed with a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) in the United States and that every six minutes someone will die from a pulmonary embolism. Many of these deaths from blood clots are preventable. Education and your own vigilance are essential for DVT awareness.
What are the facts about Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)?
- A DVT is a blood clot in the deep veins, usually in the leg, but can occur in other areas of the body.
- According to the American Heart Association, DVT occurs in about 2 million Americans every year.
- When a DVT breaks loose and travels to the lungs, it is called a pulmonary embolus (PE).
- A pulmonary embolism can be immediately fatal and they are responsible for more deaths in the U.S. each year than breast cancer and automobile accidents combined.
- DVT and PE can often be prevented and treated with anticoagulant medications.
What Are the Symptoms?
When a blood clot forms, it can either partially or totally block the flow of blood in a vein. Smaller blood clots may cause only mild symptoms or none at all. Larger blood clots will often make the leg red, swollen, and tender. But, a deep vein thrombosis is not always obvious. Even muscle cramps can sometimes be an indication of a blood clot.
If the clot breaks off and travels in the bloodstream, it can cause damage to the lungs. A pulmonary embolism often causes shortness of breath, coughing, and chest pain. Sometimes a PE can be mistaken for a pneumonia or infection.
If the lung damage caused by a PE is severe, it can kill very quickly, even before treatment can be given. If you suspect that you may have a DVT or PE, you should seek medical attention right away.
What are the risk factors for DVT or PE?
A family history of blood clots may increase your risk. Has anyone in your family experienced a deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism? Make your doctor aware if you do.
Hospitalization greatly increases blood clot risk. If you are hospitalized or having surgery, ask if you are at risk for developing blood clots. If so, you should discuss with your doctor and a blood clot prevention measure called ‘DVT prophylaxis’.
Hormones: If you are a woman, know that estrogen-containing birth control pills increase the risk for blood clots. If you are on hormone replacement therapy, ask your doctor whether you still need to be on them. If you plan to start you on hormones, ask your doctor if there are alternatives.
Obesity is a risk factor for developing blood clots—lose weight if you are overweight.
Smoking is also risk factor—don’t smoke.
Immobility increases your risk of developing clots. Move your legs frequently when traveling by plane or car. Don’t sit for a long time, remember to take a break and stretch your legs. Stay active to improve your circulation.
What can you do to help prevent a DVT include:
- Exercise the legs regularly — take a brisk walk every day
- Maintain a reasonable body weight
- Avoid sitting with the legs crossed at the knee
- Don’t sit, stand, or lie in bed for long periods of time
- Avoid tight-fitting, restrictive clothing
- Get screened for DVT risk factors. Talk to your doctor or vascular surgeon, if you have one.
Every March is DVT Awareness Month. While extra attention is given to blood clots during the month, don’t forget that knowing the symptoms and risk factors for deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism (PE) is just as important every other month of the year.
To learn more, go to preventing a dvt for additional resources.