To continue our coverage of American Heart Month, today we’ll talk about VTE, or venous thromboembolism. VTE is a blood clot that forms in the vein. According to the American Heart Association, VTE is the third leading heart-related diagnosis, following heart attack and stroke.
There are two types of VTE: deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism (PE).
DVT is a blood clot in a deep vein, usually in the legs. They form when somethings happens to blood flow. In elderly people, common causes are immobilization, hospitalization, surgery, or cancer. Being obese or overweight can also play a part in a clot forming.
PE happens when a clot breaks loose from the vein wall and travels to the lungs, blocking blood supply. Blood clots from the thigh, as opposed to other parts of the body, are most likely to cause a PE. Pulmonary embolism is the most common preventable cause of death in hospitalized patients, since both surgery and immobilization are major triggers.
Symptoms of VTE
DVT will cause leg pain, together with redness and swelling. The skin in that area may also be warm to the touch. PE symptoms include trouble breathing, chest pain, elevated heart rate, and dizziness.
Who is at Risk for VTE?
Men and women over age 40, as well as pregnant women of all ages, are at higher risk for developing DVT. Hospitalization increases your risk dramatically, so if you or your loved one needs to be hospitalized, you should ask about DVT prevention.
Other risk factors are:
- Major general surgery
- Major orthopedic surgery
- Paralysis of the lower limbs due to spinal cord injury
- Pelvic, hip, or long bone fracture
- Multiple traumas
Additional, minor risk factors are: age, obesity, physical inactivity, immobility, family history, and certain blood conditions.
Prevention and Treatment
If you or your loved one are ever admitted to the hospital, be proactive. You are at greater risk for DVT at the hospital, especially if you will be having surgery. Ask for a risk assessment right away. Your doctor will take a full medical history and decide what prevention method to use.
Some anti-clotting measures are taking blood thinning medications and wearing compression stockings. Another very effective way to avoid VTE is to get back on your feet as soon as medically possible.
Treatment for VTE involves blood thinners, or anti-coagulants. The length of treatment will depend on whether or not the VTE occurred after a trigger, like surgery or hospital stay. If there is no known trigger, treatment will usually extend for a longer period. Sometimes surgery—as unintuitive as that sounds—will be advised.
What You Can Do
Elderly people are sometimes confined to their bed or wheelchair for long periods of time. This can increase their chance of developing a VTE. If you think you or your loved one are at risk, seek a medical assessment right away.