Are You At Risk for Deep Vein Thrombosis?
Deep vein thrombosis (also called DVT or blood clots) occurs when a blood clot forms in a large vein. Part of a clot may break off and travel through the bloodstream to the lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism and, possibly, death. Everyone should know the risk factors, symptoms, and steps they can take to protect themselves.
Know Your Risk
Factors that increase the risk of developing DVT include major surgery; immobility, such as being in the hospital and long travel; recent injury; increased estrogen, from birth control pills, pregnancy, and certain medications; certain chronic medical illnesses, such as heart disease and cancer; previous DVT; age (risk increases as age increases); obesity; and smoking.
Know the Symptoms
About half of people with DVT have no symptoms at all. For those who do have symptoms, the most common symptoms are swelling, pain, tenderness, and redness of the skin. These occur in the affected part of the body (usually the leg).
Factors that increase the risk of developing DVT include major surgery; immobility, such as being in the hospital and long travel; and certain chronic medical illnesses, such as heart disease and cancer.
If you have a pulmonary embolism, you might find it hard to breathe; have a faster than normal heart beat; have chest pain or discomfort, which usually worsens with a deep breath or coughing; cough up blood; or have very low blood pressure or light-headedness, or you may black out. If you have any of these symptoms, you should seek medical help immediately.
Know How to Protect Yourself
Here are five important steps you can take to protect yourself from experiencing DVT and pulmonary embolism:
1. When sitting for long periods, such as when traveling for more than four hours, get up and walk around every two to three hours. Exercise your legs while you’re sitting by raising and lowering your heels while keeping your toes on the floor, raising and lowering your toes while keeping your heels on the floor, and tightening and releasing your leg muscles. Drink plenty of water, and avoid drinking anything with alcohol or caffeine in it.
2. Move around as soon as possible after having been confined to bed, such as after surgery, illness, or injury.
3. If you are at increased risk, talk to your doctor about wearing graduated compression stockings (sometimes called “support hose” or “medical compression stockings”).
4. If you are at increased risk, talk to your doctor about medication (anticoagulants) to prevent or treat DVT.
5. Exercise regularly, maintain a healthy weight, and don’t smoke.
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This article was originally published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, July/August 2010.