Deep Vein Thrombosis, A Little-Known Danger
It can strike after surgery, flying, a broken leg or even as a result of sitting in one position for too long – “it” is Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), a clot that forms in the leg and blocks blood flow back to the heart. While a common medical emergency, it’s not as well-known as strokes, heart attacks or other more familiar emergencies.
“The signs and symptoms are usually one-sided, lower leg swelling that starts all of a sudden and rapidly worsens,” Dr. Jason Rakita, a Family Practice Physician at Rushville Family Practice, explained. “People will usually have some pain associated with DVT. It is common to have some mild redness, as well. If you develop these symptoms, please seek medical attention immediately.”
Risk factors for developing this type of clot are a personal or family history of clots, a recent long trip (such as a 10-hour car or plane trip), leg injury, surgery or prolonged immobilization of a leg (such as when the leg is in a cast). Pooling blood in the legs may make it more likely for a clot to form. Such a clot can break free and make its way to the lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism. Because pulmonary embolisms can be life-threatening, doctors and other caregivers seek to reduce the risks of blood clots forming in the first place.
“Clot risk is decreased by walking and moving the legs as much as possible. Please avoid sitting for long periods of time, as this body position causes the most pooling of blood in the legs,” Dr. Rakita said. Properly fitting compression socks and elevating the legs on pillows while lying down in bed or sitting in a recliner can help with general leg swelling problems as well.
Culbertson Memorial Hospital follows a DVT protocol, said Britney Trone, Clinic Nurse Manager and Patient Care Coordinator. When patients are admitted, caregivers check on their medical and family history. Caregivers may decide patients need early ambulation, compression hose or socks, and/or specific medications to protect them from developing DVT.
Thrombo-Embolic Deterrent (TED) Hose may be fitted for those who cannot leave the bed at all. Compression socks are sometimes used for those who are able to walk. TED hose and compression socks are similar but distinct methods of combatting blood pooling in the legs; caregivers will choose the right therapy for each patient, depending on the individual medical situation.
Anticoagulant therapy may be prescribed for patients considered at high risk of DVT. One such medication is Lovenox®; patients can even be taught to self-administer the drug when necessary.
DVT isn’t limited to those under medical care. If you are planning a long trip, you can take steps to reduce your risks, especially if you have a history of DVT. If you are traveling by car, make frequent stops to walk around. If you are on a long plane trip, get up and walk around the plane as much as possible.