March is Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) awareness month, and according to the American Heart Association, more than 2 million Americans develop DVT each year. This potentially life-threatening condition made headlines recently when tennis great Serena Williams was hospitalized for a pulmonary embolism, a blood clot in her lung. Here's what you need to know to reduce your risk of DVT.
DVT happens when a blood clot forms in a deep vein, usually in the lower leg, thigh or pelvis. Deep veins are those embedded in the body (rather than near the surface) and are usually surrounded by muscle. If the clot is small, you may never know you had it because the body will naturally break it down and there will be no symptoms. Larger clots can partly or completely block the blood flow in your vein and cause symptoms such as swelling of the affected leg, pain and tenderness, difficulty standing, a change in the color of your skin (redness) and skin that feels warm or hot to the touch.
Complications of DVT
The most serious complication of DVT happens when part of a blood clot breaks off and travels through the body. Once a clot reaches the heart, it can be pumped through the blood stream to the lungs, where it can block an artery, causing a life-threatening pulmonary embolism, which is what happened to Serena Williams.
Since a pulmonary embolism can be fatal, keep in mind the following symptoms:
Unexplained shortness of breath
Chest pain or discomfort that becomes worse when you take a deep breath or cough
Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
Coughing up blood
A sense of anxiety or nervousness
Risk factors for DVT
Serena Williams' sudden and surprising hospitalization has shown us that even people in excellent physical condition are at risk for a potentially fatal blood clot.
Here are risk factors for DVT to remember:
Hospitalization for any illness
Recent major surgery (especially orthopedic surgery)
Personal history of a clotting disorder or previous DVT
Cancer and its associated treatments
Family history of DVT
Prolonged sitting when traveling (eight hours or more)
It's a good idea for anyone who may be at risk for DVT to talk to their doctor about treatment and preventive measures, including compression stockings and medication (often anticoagulants to thin the blood).
DVT, though potentially serious, is preventable and treatable if caught early. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the following tips for DVT prevention.
Tips to prevent DVT
Maintain a healthy weight.
Eat a healthy diet.
Drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol or caffeine.
Wear loose-fitting clothes.
Get up and walk around every few hours during a long flight and exercise legs while sitting.
Move around as soon as possible after surgery, illness or injury.
For more information about DVT and its possible problems visit www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/dvt/facts.html. As is the case with many diseases and conditions, the more you know, the better off you'll be -- and the more likely you are to prevent and treat DVT before any critical complications occur.
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