Deep vein thrombosis occurs when a blood clot forms in a large vein, usually in the lower leg, thigh, pelvis or arm. This clot can cause temporary or permanent damage to the vein where it forms. And if a clot breaks free and travels through the bloodstream into the lungs, it can result in a pulmonary embolism, an arterial blockage that can be fatal.
The risk of developing a dangerous clot increases among people who are obese, who take certain medications, and who have a family history of the condition. Pregnancy, some cancer treatments and smoking raise the risk, and it’s more common in our later years.
Immobility also raises the risk. This might occur when a person might is confined to bed after surgery or an illness, or even after sitting for a long time, as happens on a long-distance plane trip. A study from the University of Michigan even showed that devoted video gamers—young or old—are susceptible to what study author Dr. Steven Kronick calls “gamers thrombosis.” According Dr. Kronick, “Gaming can be distracting and the hours can just melt away. Prolonged sitting is a risk factor for developing blood clots. It doesn’t matter if you’re sitting on a very long air flight or on your living room couch. It’s the same mechanism.”
Awareness saves lives
Almost a million people in the U.S. each year will be affected by a blood clot, and that includes 100,000 deaths. But if treatment for a blood clot begins right away, patients often can avoid permanent damage to the affected vein and limb.
Symptoms of a deep vein thrombosis might include swelling, pain, tenderness and redness of the skin in the area of the clot. Some patients describe the sensation as feeling like a pulled muscle or “charley horse” that doesn’t go away. The skin may feel warm to the touch. See your doctor right away if you experience these symptoms. Blood clots will not clear up on their own, but treatment can reduce or prevent damage to the affected area—and also could prevent the clot from moving to the lung, causing a pulmonary embolism.
Pulmonary embolism is extremely serious. Indeed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Sudden death is the first symptom in about 25% of people who have pulmonary embolism.” But according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, being aware of the symptoms and getting prompt treatment increases a patient’s chance of survival and full recovery. Report these symptoms promptly:
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Faster than normal or irregular heartbeat
- Coughing up blood
- Very low blood pressure, lightheadedness or fainting
Lowering the risk
If you have any of the known risk factors, talk to your doctor. Following an all-around healthy lifestyle is the first step to lowering the risk. Get plenty of exercise and maintain a healthy weight. Follow your doctor’s recommendations for prevention, such as medications or wearing medical compression stockings.
And what about those long plane rides? The CDC says to wear loose clothing on the flight, get up and walk around if you can, and periodically do this set of exercises:
- Raise and lower your heels while keeping your toes on the floor.
- Raise and lower your toes while keeping your heels on the floor.
- Tighten and release your leg muscles.
Source: IlluminAge AgeWise. The CDC and the National Blood Clot Alliance have partnered to create the Stop the Clot website (www.stoptheclot.org), where you can find more information and learn more about your personal risk factors.
The information in this article is not intended to replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Talk to your doctor about risk factors, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of deep vein thrombosis/pulmonary embolism.