Understanding Deep Venous Thrombosis (DVT)

A blood clot is part of a normal and lifesaving process in our body that stops bleeding when a blood vessel is damaged. Without blood clots, we could potentially bleed to death anytime we cut or injured ourselves. Unfortunately, though, we aren’t perfect machines and the same clotting mechanism we rely on can work against us. Blood clots sometime form when they aren’t needed and when they do, they can cause a stroke, heart attack, deep venous thrombosis (DVT) and other serious medical problems.

A Deep Venous Thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot that forms inside a primary vein called a deep vein. DVT’s usually occur in the legs, but can also form in other parts of the body. The primary concern with DVT is a potentially fatal condition called Pulmonary Embolism (PE), where a blood clot detaches from the vein wall and travels into the lungs. Other serious medical conditions, such as damage to the venous valves, can occur as a result of DVT as well.

Some common signs and symptoms associated with DVT in the legs are:

  • Pain
  • Tenderness
  • Swelling
  • Redness or discoloration
  • Warm skin

If you experience a sudden onset of these symptoms, it’s important that you call your provider immediately. These symptoms warrant timely evaluation.

On the other hand, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency facility immediately if you experience any of these symptoms which could be signs of a blood clot traveling from the legs to the heart and lungs:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Pain from breathing
  • Severe lightheadedness
  • Chest pain
  • Pain in shoulder, back or jaw

Common causes of DVT:

  • Immobility: When blood moves very slowly, platelets in the blood are more likely to stick together and form a blood clot. When you sit still for long periods of time, such as when you’re on a long flight or car ride, your muscles relax, causing venous flow to slow down.
  • Injury to a deep vein: This can result from a surgery, a broken bone or other trauma. Even minor injuries such as a sprained ankle can increase your chances of developing DVT.
  • A history of DVT: If you’ve had DVT in the past, your chances of developing a new DVT are much higher. Usually, your body will break down a blood clot and it’ll go away, but sometimes some or all of the clot will remain in your vein and give your blood’s platelets something to stick to, forming a new blood clot.
  • Other causes of DVT include pregnancy, birth control, hormone replacement therapy, smoking, obesity and some genetic blood disorders.

Some simple steps you can take to lower your risk of developing DVT is:

  • Exercise regularly
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Don’t sit still for long periods of time
  • Stay hydrated
  • When traveling, wear compression stockings
  • Have regular checkups with your doctor

Deep venous thrombosis can be a dangerous and even lethal event but, as the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. You can rest well because knowing the facts, knowing the risks and knowing the ways to prevent DVT is most of the battle and could very well save your life.

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