Blood Clots and Your Legs
Blood clots in the legs are a much more common condition than many people realize. According to the National Institute of Health estimates, some two million Americans develop such blood clots each year.
The medical name for such clots is deep vein thrombosis (DVT), and it is a condition which can have serious health implications. A blood clot in the leg can hamper or even block circulation within the leg. The result can be considerable pain, or even the death of tissue that is deprived of its normal blood flow.
An even bigger threat can occur when such a clot breaks loose, moves through the circulatory system and becomes lodged in another location. The most common complication of blood clots are pulmonary embolisms which occur when a blood clot breaks free from a vein and travels to the lung where there is a high risk of its blocking an artery.
The Symptoms of Blood Clots in the Leg
Because clotting is an important normal function of our blood, in actuality most of us develop small blood clots rather regularly. In most cases, such clots are quickly dissolved by the body and present no health risk.
But when a larger clot develops deep within a vein the risk increases for potential health problems. In such cases there may be a variety of symptoms that may occur as indications of the problem. They can include tenderness, redness, pain, fever, and swelling. Sometimes there will be a rapid heartbeat, joint pain and soreness, or even a sudden and unexplained cough.
While none of these symptoms by itself is a sure indicator of a blood clot, any of them is worth discussing with your physician, particularly if you are over the age of 60 (blood clots can occur at any age, but are most common in those over 60), are pregnant or have activities or past medical history that might make the formation of blood clots more likely.
Diagnosing a blood clot is a job for your physician. There are simple in-office tests that can give a primary indication of whether a DVT might be present, but most likely an ultrasound of the leg, or an x-ray flowing an injection of dye so that blood flow can be monitored, will be necessary.
Learn to Reduce Your Deep-Vein Thrombosis Risk
March is National Deep-Vein Thrombosis Awareness Month, a time when organizations such as the Coalition to Prevent Deep-Vein Thrombosis and the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation are making a special effort to educate people about the health risks that deep-vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolisms can pose.
A Serious Health Issue
This education effort is one that is desperately needed. According to the American Heart Association, about 2 million Americans are affected by DVT and about 600,000 are hospitalized to treat DVT each year. Yet national surveys by groups such as the American Public Health Association have found that almost three-quarters of us have little or no awareness of DVT.
This lack of knowledge is critical because DVT can lead to very serious health complications and even death. Awareness of DVT, DVT prevention and what to do should it occur can help avoid the serious complications it can bring and can lower the incidence rate for DVT. Learning more about DVT can enable people to spot its symptoms earlier and get the necessary medical attention to prevent it from leading to more serious health issues.
Understanding the Problem and Its Symptoms
Deep-vein thrombosis happens when a blood clot (a thrombosis) forms in one of the large veins in our bodies. The most common place for this to occur is in the large veins within the calf or thigh. As this clot impairs or blocks the blood flow within the vein it can produce a number of symptoms:
While anyone experiencing such symptoms should seek medical attention immediately, you should know that as many as half of all DVT occurrences produce only minimal symptoms or no symptoms at all.
The reason for quick medical action when DVT symptoms do appear is that DVT can lead to pulmonary embolisms. This is when a portion of the blood clot breaks loose and travels through the circulatory system to the lungs. There, it can block a pulmonary artery or one of its branches and severely affect normal respiratory function. Symptoms can include sudden shortness of breath, chest pain that is aggravated by even normal breathing, and rapid heart and respiratory rates.
The consequences can be extremely serious. Current statistics show that of those who develop pulmonary embolisms, as many as 200,000 die each year. That's more deaths annually than breast cancer and AIDS.
Reducing Your DVT Risk
An important first step in reducing these figures is for more people to be aware of their risk for DVT and of the symptoms listed above that DVT will often bring. According to the Coalition to Prevent Deep-Vein Thrombosis, a number of things can increase one's risk for DVT or serve as a triggering event:
- Various heart or respiratory diseases
- Prior DVT episodes
- Advanced age
- Medical problems which limit mobility
- Prolonged hospitalization, especially from major surgery, such as joint replacements, that keep one immobile in bed for a long time
- Use of birth control pills
While it is important for any person of any age to be alert for the symptoms that might indicate DVT, it is especially important for anyone who may be facing two or more of the above factors that increase risk. It is also essential to remember that various other, less serious conditions can display symptoms similar to DVT. These can include muscle strains, skin infections and phlebitis (inflammation of the veins). For anyone with a risk factor associated with DVT, the safe path when symptoms appear is to let a medical professional conduct the specialized tests that clarify whether DVT is the cause, or if it is something less threatening.
Taking Steps to Prevent DVT
Acting quickly when symptoms that may indicate DVT occur is very important, but there are also actions people can take to reduce the chance of DVT occurring. That is especially vital for anyone who is at higher risk for this health condition.
Obesity is a controllable health factor that research has linked to higher risk for DVT (as well as for a variety of other health issues). Taking steps to reach to a healthier weight can be one of the best decisions you can make. Smoking is another health factor over which we have control and that studies show will increase the risk for a variety of circulatory problems, including DVT. While stopping smoking or losing significant amounts of weight are never easy goals to achieve, today there are a wide variety of healthy ways to help in achieving these goals. Talk to your physician for more information on smoking cessation and weight reduction programs that may be available in your area.
Staying physically active, especially during periods of recuperation that limit mobility, is another means for reducing DVT risk. Again, it is vital to talk with your physician about the risk of DVT and what you may be able to do, within your current medical limits, to be more physically active and at less risk for the problem. But, whenever possible, increasing your level of exercise is almost certainly going to reduce your risk for DVT and many other health issues.
Quality compression hosiery is another means of reducing DVT risk, especially for those with known circulatory problems in the legs. Quality support hose can help prevent pooling of blood in the legs and the subsequent formation of blood clots that often occur in people recovering from medical procedures, such as surgery or cancer treatment, or who have other health problems that may limit mobility. Compression hosiery can also help reduce the possibility of circulatory problems in the legs for women who are pregnant. A women's risk of circulatory problems has been found to be six times greater when she is pregnant, and pulmonary embolisms are the leading cause of maternal deaths associated with childbirth.
Make time this month to learn more about Deep-Vein Thrombosis and the risk it may present to you. The Internet offers several good sources for additional information on DVT and its prevention:
While there is no way to guarantee that DVT will never affect you, learning more about this health condition can help you do all that's possible to reduce its risk of occurrence, to recognize its symptoms early, and to minimize the health problems it might bring should it occur.