Blood clots and pulmonary embolisms (PE) are serious medical conditions that can have life-threatening consequences. Like many illnesses, knowing risk factors and how you may be able to mitigate them can be life-saving, particularly when it comes to deep vein thrombosis or DVT.
Our board-certified interventional cardiologist and vascular surgeon, Saleem Saiyad, MD, reveals what deep vein thrombosis is so you better understand it and if you’re at risk, how to implement changes to manage or eliminate your risk.
Let’s start by first defining what DVT is and its connection to a pulmonary embolism. Deep vein thrombosis is the third most common vascular disease behind strokes and heart attacks. When a blood clot forms in a vein deep inside the body, DVT occurs. Although the clot can develop in the veins of your arms or the pelvis, most DVTs occur in the legs and either completely or partially disrupts blood flow.
The real danger with DVTs happens if the clot breaks off and travels to the lung, triggering a pulmonary embolism in the arteries that transports blood to the lungs. Surprisingly, one to three out of every 1,000 Americans develops DVT or pulmonary embolism annually. Sadly, up to 300,000 won’t survive.
Although some people who suffer from deep vein thrombosis experience symptoms like swelling or discomfort in one or both legs, up to 30% of people with DVT are asymptomatic, so knowing you're at risk for developing DVT is crucial. Also, when it comes to DVT, the risk factors tend to layer – the more risk factors you have, the more prone you are to developing DVT.
Genetics and family medical history can determine your predisposition for developing DVTs. If you or a family member has a history of blood clots, DVTs, PEs, or a genetic blood clot disorder, you are at a higher risk.
Being active naturally keeps the blood flowing and enhances blood circulation. However, if your lifestyle or work tends to make you more sedentary, your risk of developing blood clots increases. Similarly, extended long-distance travel that restricts activity can also put you at higher risk for DVT.
Sometimes inactivity happens as a result of hospitalization for trauma, illness, or surgery. This risk factor accounts for more than half of all DVTs. It’s no wonder that when you’re in the hospital, the staff encourages you to get up and walk around as soon as possible.
Another condition that makes you prone to developing a DVT is being overweight or obese. Additional weight has two effects: extra weight puts more stress and pressure on your veins, impacting blood flow while also making your heart work harder, which may lead to heart issues like congestive heart failure, raising your risk for DVT and pulmonary embolism.
Lifestyle choices like cigarette smoking also increase your risk for DVT. While research hasn’t proven a direct link between DVT and smoking, many other risk factors associated with smokers, like a tendency to be overweight, having heart issues, and cancer, are shared risk factors with DVT.
Similarly, a couple of associated risks, like trauma to a vein during surgery, being overweight or obese, and inactivity, make cancer patients more prone to developing DVT. Patients undergoing chemotherapy are particularly vulnerable, especially patients with a catheter in a central vein for long-term treatment.
During pregnancy and postpartum, about six weeks after delivery, are high-risk periods for women to get DVT. Pregnancy creates a perfect storm for DVT as the body is in a hypercoagulable state strategically poised to prevent postpartum bleeding. Other risk factors like obesity, high blood pressure, or diabetes can further increase the risk.
Varicose veins, known for their unsightly, bluish, ropey appearance typically occur in veins closer to the skin than the deeper veins, which are affected by DVT. However, in the case of severe varicose veins, there may be a risk of developing DVT. If you suffer from varicose veins and have other risk factors for DVT, your doctor performs a thorough evaluation to assess your risk for deep vein thrombosis.
If you are concerned about DVT and want to know if you are at risk, contact us at Premier Vein & Vascular for an evaluation today. Schedule an appointment online for a consultation at one of our offices in Tampa or Largo, Florida.