In 2005, the United States Senate officially recognized March is DVT Awareness Month in an effort to educate the public on the dangers of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) and Pulmonary Embolus (PE). Current events are a reminder that you or someone you know could be at risk of have DVT/PE. Tennis star Serena Williams was recently treated for a PE. In 2005, a reporter embedded with our troops in Iraqi, David Bloom, died of a PE. Closer to home most of us probably know someone who has suffered with DVT/PE.
What are blood clots?
It is normal for blood to clot if you experience a cut or scrape. However, if your blood clots in your deep veins a “deep vein thrombosis”, or DVT may form. DVTs can partially or completely block the flow of bood in the deep veins. Most reported cases of DVT are in the lower extremities (legs) although arms and pelvic veins may also be affected. An embolus may occur if all or part of a DVT breaks away from the vein wall. If an embolus moves through the heart and into the arteries in the lung(s), it is called a “pulmonary embolus”, or PE.
When statistics are quoted it is important to remember that these numbers represent real people. The U.S.Surgeon General reports that 2 million Americans suffer from DVT each year. About 1 million of these occur during or within thirty days of a hospital stay. Progression of DVT to PE is the third most common cause of hospital deaths. Every five minutes someone dies of a PE in the U.S. More people die each year from PE than breast cancer, AIDS, and traffic accidents combined.
Events that increase the risk of DVT/PE are hospitalization, major surgery, injury, personal or family history of blood clots, extended bed rest, prolonged sitting, and long trips. Additional risk in women include: pregnancy, birth control pills and hormone therapy. Of the general population 15 to 20 percent have an inherited risk of DVT/PE. If there is a family history of clots a blood test can determine if you have an inherited risk. Discuss your risk factors, including family history of DVT/PE, with your doctor, in particular if you are considering hormone therapy, birth control pills, or have upcoming surgeries planned.
How to Prevent DVT?
After meeting with your primary physician, if you are determined to be at risk for developing DVT, ask about preventive measures.
These preventive measures include:
- Compression hose when traveling
- Mechanical pumps to reduce the pooling of blood in leg veins during surgery or when immobilized in the hospital, exercising your legs during trips or after surgery
- Drinking plenty of water to prevent dehydration
- Blood thinners in tiny doses can prevent DVT without the risk of bleeding in most cases
Unfortunately, even if preventive measures are taken, DVT/PE can still occur. Although DVT and PE are often asymptomatic (without symptom).
The following symptoms raise concern of a possible DVT:
- unexplained leg swelling,
- pain and tenderness,
- changes to the skin color and warmth may be seen in DVT.
Symptoms indicative of a possible PE include:
- Sudden shortness of breath
- Sharp chest pain
- Coughing up blood
- A sense of doom
- Sudden collapse
If you experience any of these symptoms, seek immediate medical care, ask the doctor if you might have a DVT/ PE.
As noted in the initial paragraph, death is a consequence of PE but there are also other consequences of DVT and PE which may be life altering. Late consequences of DVT may include damage to the leg veins, leg pain, heaviness and swelling. Further complications which often impair quality of life are difficulty walking, changes in skin color and leg ulcers.
Minimally Invasive Endovenous Procedures
Use of compression hose after a DVT can help prevent or control the complications noted above. Most patients with DVT/PE are treated with oral, subcutaneous, or intra venous blood thinners. In selected cases drugs may be used to dissolve the clot (followed by blood thinning medications to prevent further clots). On occasion a filter may be placed in the vena cava, the large vein in the abdomen, to prevent a PE.
The best prevention of DVT and PE complications is early diagnosis and treatment. Diagnosis of DVT is made with a painless, risk free ultrasound. PE is diagnosed most commonly with a CT scan of the chest. There are other testing modalities also that may be used for diagnosis.
I encourage you all to increase your awareness of DVT/ PE by visiting the Vascular Disease Foundation website. The Vascular Disease Foundation is a national, nonprofit, public education foundation dedicated to fighting vascular disease. You will find on the website, www.vdf.org more information about DVT, its risk factors, signs and symptoms, and a free risk assessment quiz.
If you are in the state of Georgia Call our office (800) 764-3280 to get DVT Risk assessment Kit.