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DVT Risk and Prevention Everyone Should Know

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

March is DVT (deep vein thrombosis) month. The reason DVT awareness has a month of its own is because DVT can be fatal. Knowing who is at risk and finding ways to prevent DVT can save lives. DVT can develop in the lower or upper extremities.

Last September, the Office of the Surgeon General launched a DVT awareness campaign in collaboration with the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). Studies are underway to determine which drug interventions can stop those at risk from developing DVT - blood clots in the deep large veins that can travel to the lungs or brain, and lead to death. One of goals of research is to determine if warfarin (a blood thinner) can prevent 300,000 deaths each year from DVT and pulmonary embolus (a blood clot from DVT dislodges from the leg veins or pelvis and travels to the lungs.) According to the American Heart Association, more than 2 million Americans are affected by DVT each year.

People at risk for DVT include anyone with a genetic tendency. People with clotting disorders from genetic variances were found to be rare, accounting for 1% of cases of DVT until recent studies showed that genes might play a more important role than previously believed for developing DVT. (1) The study showed a “modest” association between gene variants and the development of DVT, specifically the V Leiden and prothombin gene. (2)

Elderly people are especially at risk for DVT after prolonged hospitalization. Elders who are debilitated, and move little at home are also at risk. DVT can result from inactivity. Clots form in the legs from too little movement and lack of exercise. Cancer patients are especially prone to DVT.

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Pregnancy can also increase the risk for DVT because of changes in blood viscosity from hormonal influences. Pregnant women with a history of DVT during a previous pregnancy are at higher risk, and women with clotting disorders have a very high risk of DVT during pregnancy.

Other risk factors for DVT include surgery, high triglyceride levels in post-menopausal women (suggested), obesity, oral contraceptive use, smoking, age (over 65), and long periods of sitting.

Symptoms of DVT
Unfortunately, DVT can have few symptoms, as is the case 50% of the time. When symptoms are present, DVT causes pain and swelling around the affected area. The skin may feel warm to touch and appear discolored.

Preventing DVT
DVT may not be entirely preventable, but practicing a healthy lifestyle is the first recommendation. Maintain good circulation with regular exercise and by watching your weight. Smoking cessation is also important. Smoking constricts the blood vessels, and leads to vascular disease that can predispose to DVT. Patients undergoing surgery should discuss DVT prevention before surgery with their physician.

Avoid long periods of inactivity. Be sure to get at least thirty minutes of exercise daily, stay well hydrated, and helps others increase awareness of DVT. If you have to sit for long periods, move your legs and feet frequently. Most importantly, talk with your doctor if you think you are at risk for DVT, or experiencing symptoms. Do not assume that you have an injury or infection causing pain and swelling. Your doctor will perform tests to diagnose DVT.

For more information, visit PreventDVT.org
(1) JAMA 2008; 299:1306-1314.
(2) JAMA 2008; 299:1362-1363