March is DVT Awareness Month. Deep Vein Thrombsis (DVT) also called venous thromboembolism can cause serious illness, disability and death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), DVT occurs when a blood clot develops in a deep vein. The most common sites for DVT is in the lower leg, pelvis or thigh. However, DVT can also form in an arm. The greatest danger from DVT is when part of a clot breaks off and travels through the bloodstream to the lungs. This causes a blockage in the lungs that is called a pulmonary embolism (PE). When this clot is small and properly treated, it is possible to recover from it. However, a large clot can block blood from reaching the lungs and this can be fatal.
Prolonged Sitting and Travel can Cause DVT
Prolonged sitting can lead to the formation of blood clots in the legs. The longer you sit the greater is the chance to develop a blood clot, especially if you are traveling for more than 4 hours by car, bus, plane or train. It is crucial to get up and walk around and do leg stretching exercises while sitting. If you are in your own car you can certainly take as many rest stops as necessary. The worst situation is one where there is travel more than four hours without stops. A train allows you to walk around as much as you want to. A plane flight usually requires that you stay put in your seat and only get up when necessary like to use the rest room.
Risk Factors for Developing a DVT
- Aging (risk increases with age)
- Recent surgery or injury within the last three months
- Other serious illnesses like congestive heart failure or inflammatory bowel disease
- Postpartum up to 3 months after childbirth
- Hormone replacement or birth control pills that contain estrogen
- Family history of blood clots, blood clotting disorder or a previous blood clot. About 5-8% of people in the United States have genetic risk factors for developing a DVT/PE.
- Cancer or recent treatment for cancer
- Varicose veins in the legs
- Catheter that is placed in a vein
- Limited or lack of movement
Signs of a Blood Clot
A blood clot may not show any signs at all until it becomes serious, especially if it travels to the lungs and causes a pulmonary embolism (PE). However, here are the signs to watch out for:
- Pain and tenderness
- Skin feels warm
- Skin is red
Signs of a Pulmonary Embolism (PE)
A PE can happen even if there were no signs of a DVT. A PE is a life-threatening medical emergency. The following may be signs of a PE:
- Difficulty Breathing
- An irregular or a fast heart beat
- Coughing up blood
- Very low blood pressure, fainting or lightheadedness
- Sudden death
Statistics about Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)
According to the CDC:
About 900,000 people may develop DVT/PE every year in the United States.
It is estimated that 60,000 to 100,000 Americans die of DVT/PE every year.
Within one month of DVT/PE diagnosis, 10-30% will die.
Sudden death is the first symptom of PE in about 25% of people who have PE.
About a half to a third of people with DVT/PE will have a recurrence within 10 years.
DVT and PE can be treated. Medicines or devices may be used to dissolve or break up the clot. Usually, medicines are taken for several weeks or months to prevent more clots from forming. This also gives the body a chance to dissolve existing clots. However, a large PE can cause sudden death.
It certainly pays to avoid prolonged sitting, especially while traveling.