Many people have heard of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and know the two most important things there are to know about it: DVT can be dangerous and potentially deadly. DVT is a condition where a blood clot forms in one of the deep veins of the lower extremities. At the Vein Center of Florida and South Baldwin, we have extensive experience diagnosing and treating vein disease and we understand that knowledge is power. For that reason, we compiled the information below to help our patients understand this often silent, but threatening, condition.
What Causes Blood Clots?
Clotting is a protective mechanism within the body that stops blood from gushing after a cut, injury or surgery. In most cases, a blood clot will dissolve once its job is done. However, in some people, blood will thicken to a jelly-like state that allows a blood clot to form and remain in a vein or artery. This becomes concerning because the blood clot blocks blood flow and causes pain, swelling and redness. Furthermore, if a piece, or all, of the blood clot in a vein breaks away, it can move to a lung and cause a life-threatening condition called a pulmonary embolism.
Blood Clots in Arteries and Veins
A blood clot can form in any artery or vein throughout the body. Arteries carry oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the rest of the body. Veins push oxygen-depleted blood back to the heart. When a clot forms in an artery, it is called an arterial clot. Symptoms are usually immediate and severe. Blood clots in veins tend to develop slowly over time. When a blood clot forms in a deep vein within the body, generally in the legs, it is called DVT.
Am I at Risk for Developing DVT?
Men and women of every age and background can develop DVT; however, some people are more susceptible to developing blood clots if they:
- Are overweight
- Recently had surgery
- Are bedridden
- Are traveling for extended periods in a car or airplane
- Use birth control pills
- Use hormone replacement medication
- Are 60 years of age or older
- Have a family history of blood clotting issues
- Have a chronic disease
What are the Risk Factors for Developing DVT?
Certain factors play a role in causing DVT to develop:
- Surgery: The risk of developing DVT increases with any operation, but DVT is more common in surgeries that involve the pelvic region or lower extremities. The body is in clotting overdrive, trying to stop the bleeding caused by the operation. Also, damage caused to blood vessels during surgery promotes blood clotting. These reactions from the body increase the risk of developing DVT after surgery.
- Inactivity: Sitting or lying for extended periods can cause blood flow to slow. Sluggish blood flow allows blood to remain in the vein longer than normal. The stagnant blood can change into a gel-like consistency, which makes it more likely to clump together and form a blood clot.
- Injury: Trauma to the body, in the form of an accident or injury that damages a blood vessel, may appear as bruising. Still, underneath the skin, the injured vessels may be excessively clotting, which can lead to the formation of a blood clot.
- Hypercoagulable blood: Blood that quickly and easily clots can lead to blood clots. Certain medications, such as estrogen, can promote blood clots. In addition, some diseases (lung disease, heart disease, cancer or certain bowel diseases) can make blood more apt to clot.
What are the Signs of DVT?
Death is the first sign of DVT in approximately 25 percent of people who have DVT progress to a pulmonary embolism. Because DVT can silently develop in the body over time, it is important to watch for the following leg symptoms:
- Worsening pain when flexing or bending the feet
- Patches of redness
- Skin discoloration
- Skin that is abnormally hot to the touch
If part or all of a DVT breaks away and moves to the lungs, some symptoms of a pulmonary embolism may include:
- Skin discoloration
- Excessive sweating
- Rapid heart rate
- Shortness of breath
- Rapid breathing
- Sharp chest pain that worsens as you breathe
- Increased leg pain
- Dramatic swelling
How Can I Avoid Getting DVT?
A lack of movement or inactivity most commonly causes DVT. Being sedentary causes the blood to become sluggish and not flow as smoothly and efficiently as it does when the body is mobile. For this reason, taking proactive steps while traveling, having surgery or during a prolonged illness can minimize risk of DVT.
- Traveling: If you plan to sit in a car or airplane for longer than two hours, consider wearing compression stockings to improve circulation. Wear loose clothing that doesn’t bind or pinch any part of your body. Frequently flex your legs and “write” the ABC’s with your feet to promote blood flow. If possible, stand up and walk periodically.
- Surgery: Your health care team will take measures during and after surgery to promote blood flow within your body. A special compression wrap or device may be placed on each calf. This wrap fills with air and depressurizes to massage the calf and promote circulation. During and after surgery, you may be encouraged to wear compression stockings. As soon as it is safe, your health care team will get you up and moving.
- Prolonged Illness: Sometimes, the flu or an illness can involve a lot of bed rest. To ward off DVT, rest with your feet elevated. Consider wearing compression stockings. Shift positions when lying down. Stretch and flex your legs and “write” the ABC’s with your feet to promote circulation.
Seek an Expert Opinion
DVT is a silent but deadly condition that affects almost one million Americans each year. It is for this reason it is important to have an understanding of what it is and ways to minimize risk. If you are concerned you may have a DVT, it is important that you seek immediate medical evaluation at an emergency room or urgent care center. Based upon evaluation and findings, you may have an underlying venous condition, such as venous insufficiency, which can be treated by an experienced physician. Dr. James Jimenez and his caring team at The Vein Center of Florida & South Baldwin have the expertise to care for you and help reduce the risk in many patients. We offer convenient locations in Pensacola and Destin, Florida, or Foley, Alabama. Call us today at 1-800-910-VEIN to schedule an appointment or to receive a free vein screening.