Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) might be one of the most dangerous medical conditions that you have never heard of. Unlike heart attacks and strokes, this exceptionally common cardiovascular problem does not seem to draw a lot of public attention.
DVT occurs when your blood thickens into a solid clump, forming a clot in a vein that is deep below the surface of your skin. Although DVT can affect any vein in your body, the condition often affects larger leg veins (located in the thigh or lower leg).
Symptoms and signs
DVT is usually a silent problem, meaning it develops without any obvious symptoms or warning signs. When symptoms do occur, they are often in the form of swelling, redness, and pain along the affected vein.
When DVT goes undetected and untreated, it can lead to chronic vein inflammation, varicose veins, painful venous claudication, chronic venous insufficiency, and persistent skin ulcers near the site of the affected vein.
Even more worrisome, DVT clots can break off, travel to your lungs, and cause a dangerous, even deadly) pulmonary embolism or blockage in your heart.
DVT risk factors
Because DVT often develops without any noticeable symptoms, and because newly formed DVT clots are more likely to break away than older clots, travel through your bloodstream, and endanger your health and your life, DVT requires prompt diagnosis and treatment.
Knowing your personal risk factors for DVT is one of the best ways to protect yourself against this highly preventable problem. Any one of these factors puts you at risk for DVT:
- Prolonged inactivity
DVT occurs when something causes the blood flow in your veins to slow down or change. While this can happen spontaneously, it is usually the result of an outside factor. Prolonged inactivity of any kind, such as being on bed rest, sitting for hours every day, or even sitting in one position for too long, such as during car or airplane travel, can cause DVT.
- Vein injury
Any time a vein sustains damage, it is at an increased risk of developing DVT. A bone fracture or severe muscle injury in your pelvis, or leg, can increase your chances of developing DVT if it affects a nearby vein.
Certain surgical procedures (hip, knee, bariatric, or female pelvic surgery) are also associated with an increased risk of DVT; veins that have been damaged by dialysis catheters and PICC lines are also susceptible.
- Hypercoagulable states
The term “hypercoagulable state” refers to any disease or condition that causes your blood to clot more easily. Cancer, heart disease, lung disease, and certain autoimmune disorders, such as lupus or inflammatory bowel disease, qualify as hypercoagulable states that increase the risk of DVT.
- Increased estrogen
Having higher than normal estrogen levels can also increase your risk of developing DVT blood clots. Taking certain forms of hormonal birth control medication can leave you more prone to developing DVT, as can taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) following menopause.
Because pregnancy also causes a surge of estrogen, women who are pregnant or up to three months postpartum have a greater risk of DVT.
- Medical history
Although DVT is more common in adults older than 60, it can happen at any age, particularly if you have any health-related risk factors. You are at a greater risk of developing a deep-vein blood clot if you are overweight or obese or if you have a family history of DVT, pulmonary embolisms, or clotting disorders. Your risk also increases if you are a smoker.
DVT is highly treatable and preventable with early detection and care. In most cases, taking anticoagulant medication (blood thinners) is all it takes to reduce the size and threat of deep-vein blood clots.
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