Understanding deep vein thrombosis
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a condition characterised by the formation of a blood clot deep within a vein, typically in the leg. It affects a significant number of people globally, and it can be life-threatening. The concern with DVT is that fragments of the blood clot can break off and travel through the bloodstream. If one of these fragments becomes lodged in the lungs, it can obstruct blood flow, potentially leading to organ damage or even death.
Symptoms: One common symptom of DVT is the swelling of the leg below the knee. Additionally, the affected area may exhibit redness, tenderness, or pain. However, it's important to note that these symptoms may not always be present. Approximately half of individuals with DVT do not experience any warning signs.
Causes: DVT can be caused by various factors that lead to damage to the inner lining of a vein. These factors include surgery, injury, or immune system responses. Conditions that cause thick or slow-flowing blood increase the likelihood of clot formation, particularly in veins that have already been damaged. Additionally, individuals with specific genetic disorders or higher levels of oestrogen are at an increased risk of developing blood clots.
Certain individuals are more likely to develop DVT. These include:
• Individuals with a history of cancer
• Those who have undergone surgery
• People on prolonged bed rest
• Older individuals
• Individuals who are overweight or obese
• Those who engage in prolonged periods of sitting, such as during long airplane flights
Pregnancy: During pregnancy and the 4 to 6 weeks following childbirth, women are at an increased risk of developing DVT. This is attributed to higher levels of oestrogen during this period, which can potentially increase the likelihood of blood clot formation. The pressure exerted by the expanding uterus can also contribute to reduced blood flow in the veins. Moreover, certain blood disorders further elevate the risk of DVT in pregnant women.
Hormone therapy: Hormone therapy, including the use of birth control pills and certain treatments for postmenopausal symptoms, can elevate the levels of oestrogen in a woman's bloodstream. This increase in oestrogen can potentially raise the risk of developing DVT.
Trapped in your seat: While traveling to new and distant destinations can be an exciting experience, sitting in a confined seat for an extended period during long-distance travel, such as a trip lasting over 4 hours, can be uncomfortable. Research indicates that prolonged travel doubles the risk of developing DVT, regardless of whether it is by air, bus, train, or car. When you remain seated in a cramped position without much movement, it can lead to slowed blood flow.
Diagnosis: To diagnose DVT, doctors will conduct a thorough examination, including assessing for signs and symptoms. They will also inquire about your medical history, medications you are currently taking, any relevant medical conditions in your close relatives, as well as factors that could increase your risk of developing DVT. The most common method used to confirm the presence of DVT is an ultrasound, which utilizes sound waves to visualise blood flow and identify blood clots. In some cases, additional tests such as a d-dimer blood test may be necessary.
Compression stockings are specialised socks that apply gentle pressure on your legs, promoting blood circulation. They help prevent the formation of blood clots, reduce swelling, and alleviate pain in areas where a clot has formed. While you can purchase compression stockings over the counter, stockings with higher pressure require a prescription from your doctor. It is recommended to wear them consistently, even when at home.
In addition, elevating your legs by keeping your feet raised off the floor whenever possible can be beneficial. This position facilitates the upward flow of blood from your veins towards your heart, reducing swelling and discomfort in the leg affected by DVT.