Deep vein thrombosis, or DVT, is a condition that results in the development of a blood clot. This happens most often in the legs. While DVT can include symptoms such as swelling or pain, it can also occur without any type of warning.1
DVT is a serious issue, because it can lead to a blood clot that gets stuck in the lungs. This, in turn, could cause a potentially life-threatening pulmonary embolism.2
Here’s some information on spotting the signs of DVT, and five easy ways to reduce your chances of it occurring.
The most common symptoms of DVT are:
- Tenderness and warmth in the affected area (often the thigh, calf, or ankle)
- Sudden swelling or pain of the leg or ankle
- Pain in one leg that worsens with standing or walking for extended periods
- Red or otherwise discolored skin
Another problem associated with DVT is known as post-thrombotic syndrome. This occurs when the valves within leg veins leak, leading to pooling of fluid in the ankles. Symptoms include redness, ulcers, and swelling.4
Why a Pulmonary Embolism is So Serious
A pulmonary embolism occurs when one of the arteries that goes to your lungs – the pulmonary arteries – becomes clogged. The main cause of this type of blockage is a blood clot that breaks off somewhere else in the body and travels to the lungs. The symptoms of a pulmonary embolism can vary. They include chest pain, sudden difficulty breathing, coughing, and dizziness. If you have any reason whatsoever to suspect you might have a pulmonary embolism, you’ll need to get to your doctor immediately.
Tips to Reduce Your Risk of DVT
If you are obese or you smoke, you’re at a higher risk of developing DVT.6 But anyone can develop this problem. Here are a few ways you can minimize that risk.
1. Get Up and Walk
Being sedentary for long periods of time could increase your risk of DVT.7 Whether you’re at home binging Netflix or working late at the office, get up and walk around often. This will help improve circulation. Even if it’s only for a few minutes, stay active. Plan regular walks during your work day, and before or after you get home.
If your doctor thinks you have a health issue that could increase your DVT risk, they might recommend compression stockings. These stockings help to stimulate circulation of the blood.
2. Change Your Sleeping Position
Raising the foot of your bed at night could help reduce the chances of developing DVT. A few inches could make a big difference – as long as you make sure that your legs are resting higher than your hips.8 While it may take some time to adjust to this new sleeping position, you’ll find that the effort is worth the trouble. If you’re stuck in bed because of an illness like the flu, you still need to try to get up and around a few times during the day.
3. Road Trip Rules
If you stay static for hours at a time, that will put you at a higher risk of DVT. An extended road trip is always fun, but be sure you get out of the car every 60-90 minutes to stretch your legs.
4. Always Take Your Medicine With You
If you take regular medications, always keep them with you, and take them as directed. This is especially important if you take blood thinners – which help keep blood clots from forming.
Even if you’re going on vacation, stick to your medication regimen every day. You don’t want to increase your risk for DVT by forgetting to take your medication.
5. Be Careful on a Plane
If you plan on being on a plane for several hours, you still need to walk to help prevent DVT. Take a stroll up and down the plane’s aisle every hour or so to keep your blood flowing as it should. Even if the seat belt sign is still on, there are things you can do to promote good circulation. Try lifting your toes up and down every few minutes while you’re in your seat.
Also, stay hydrated. This will help keep your blood from thickening. Stick to water while flying, and steer clear of alcohol or caffeinated beverages.
Symptoms of a Blood Clot
Unfortunately, nearly 1 million people develop this condition each year, and up to 100,000 die due to blood clots.9 One of the most common side effects of surgery is DVT.10
If you notice any of these potential signs of a clot developing, seek medical help immediately:
- Abdominal clots – Warning signs include diarrhea, vomiting, and severe pain
- Heart – Discomfort in the upper body, nausea, pain or a heavy feeling in the chest, numbness in the arm, and shortness of breath are a few of the indications that a blood clot may be near the heart.
- Head – Signs of a blood clot near the brain include sudden dizziness or a severe headache, weakness in the legs, arms, or face, trouble speaking or garbled speaking, and difficulty seeing.
- Legs and arms – If you notice a feeling of warmth in an arm or leg or sudden pain or swelling, those could be indications that a clot has formed.
- Lungs – If you cough up blood, experience rapid breathing or a rapid heartbeat, or if you have a sharp pain in the chest, that could mean a clot has lodged near a lung.11
Treatment Options for DVT
There is a chance that your doctor will prescribe a blood-thinning medication if he or she suspects you are at risk for DVT. While some patients use these medications for only a few months, others will have to take them for the rest of their lives.12
Compression stockings are often used to help reduce your chances of blood clots forming due to DVT, as well as an even more serious problem such as a pulmonary embolism. These usually stretch from the foot to the knee (or, in some cases, even the thigh). They’re designed to reduce swelling and ease pain. They’re typically very tight near the ankle and then gradually loosen as they get to the knee. The reason is that they’re meant to keep blood from pooling in the lower leg and potentially forming a clot.13
You can still live a rewarding, active life if you have DVT. However, you have to be extremely careful not to stay sedentary too long, and to be alert to the signs of a potential clot or pulmonary embolism.