“Deep” veins – those found quite literally deep within your body – are responsible for carrying 95% of your blood back to your heart. They play an important role in your body’s functioning so when something goes wrong it can be a serious threat to your well being.
Deep Vein Thrombosis (or DVT) occurs when a blood clot forms in a deep vein, typically in your legs. These clots can come loose and travel through your body to your lungs where they will block blood flow and cause a pulmonary embolism.
DVT isn’t always symptomatic, but if you start experiencing swelling or pain in your leg, ankle or foot, if your leg feels heavy, warm, or if you notice a change in skin coloration, it’s a good idea to visit your doctor for an Ultrasound.
In fact, it is estimated that about 2 out of every 1,000 people in the United States suffer from DVT but a quarter of those experience no symptoms whatsoever. And unfortunately, the first “symptom” that they experience is death.
As you walk or engage in other standing physical activity, your calf muscles squeeze and assist blood flow. But when you sit for extended periods of time, blood can stagnate and increase your risk of a clot.
Frequent fliers are susceptible to blood clots, especially since cramped seats, cabin compression and dry air can conspire to worsen the situation. In fact, all travelers are at risk whether it means extended periods sitting in a car, bus or other vehicle.
Deep Vein Thrombosis is also common in people who are immobile for health reasons, such as those engaged in prolonged hospital stays.
Other factors outside of your control may also put you at risk. Age, genetics and even height (which typically affects men rather than women) can all increase your risk.
Pregnancy, heart disease, obesity, smoking and injury are all risk factors.
Considering how common DVT is and how often it goes ignored or unnoticed, it’s a good idea to see a doctor for an Ultrasound if you fall into one of these risk categories. This relatively quick and painless procedure done annually or bi-annually can literally save your life.
The best treatment for DVT is prevention. If you travel often or for extended periods of time, or sit a lot as part of your job, get up every two hours minimum and walk around. Better yet, try to get moving once every half hour or so. If you set a timer and simply get up, stretch and walk across the room for a few minutes you’d be doing yourself a tremendous health service.
Another good preventative measure is to wear compression stockings. They may not be the most comfortable but they increase blood flow and improve the efficiency of your veins as they work to move blood back to your heart.
Quitting smoking and maintaining a healthy weight are good bets to reduce your risk and improve your health overall.
But what if you’re already suffering from DVT? Typically your doctor will put you on blood thinners or anticoagulants to assist in dissolving preexisting clots and prevent new clots from forming.
If the clot is located above the knee or if your doctor is concerned that it may move, you may opt to have an intra vena cava filter inserted, which is a filter designed to sit between the clot and your lungs so that if the clot does break loose, it will be caught by the filter before it can cause additional harm.
The bottom line is that whether you’re in a high risk group, have experienced DVT in the past or think you might be suffering from it now, you have options. Make prevention your first measure and when you need help, find a doctor or specialist with the experience to give you the advice and treatment you need. It may mean the difference between life and death.