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Healthy Living

Hidden Threat: Deep Vein Thrombosis

By Sheryl Kraft

Created: 03/25/2013
Last Updated: 03/26/2013

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While watching the Today Show last week, I was jolted into that familiar feeling of "Huh? Where has the time gone?" when it was reported that next month marks 10 years since the sudden and tragic death of 39-year-old journalist David Bloom. Ten years! I remember hearing the news back then—although if you asked me how long ago it was, I would have said maybe two or three years—that while on assignment in Iraq, Bloom died of a pulmonary embolism, originating as deep vein thrombosis. The words were foreign to me and I wondered what it was all about.

But I never dug that deeply. That was before I started writing about health.

Now I feel both a curiosity and obligation to my readers to report on this serious condition that is a major health threat. Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) occurs when a blood clot forms in a large vein. What happens next can be serious or even life threatening: part of the clot may break off and travel to your lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism (PE).

DVT and PE are major health problems in the United States. It's estimated that between 300,000 to 600,000 Americans have these conditions each year and that 60,000 to 100,000 die as a result. Aside from that, many people who have either condition suffer from complications that have a great impact on their health and quality of life.

Since the condition is potentially life threatening, it's important to know:

Symptoms of DVT
(Note: Not everyone will experience symptoms. When they're present, they may include the following):

  • Swelling (sometimes sudden) of the arm or leg
  • Pain or tenderness in the leg (may only be felt when standing or walking)
  • Increased warmth or pain in the area of the swollen arm or leg
  • Skin redness or discoloration
  • (Superficial) vein enlargement in the affected arm or leg

Symptoms of PE

  • Sudden shortness of breath
  • Sharp chest pain (often made worse by moving or coughing)
  • Back pain
  • Cough
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Rapid pulse
  • Rapid breathing
  • Lightheadedness or fainting

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Are You at Risk?

Although David Bloom was young and otherwise healthy, his DVT occurred because of prolonged immobility. That's akin to , which can also have serious effects on your health. A few other factors contributed to his DVT: dehydration and an inherited blood coagulant disorder called Factor V Leiden.

Other Risk Factors

Major surgery
Recent injury
Increased estrogen from birth control pills, pregnancy and certain medications
Previous DVT
Age (risk rises with increased age)
Obesity
Smoking

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Preventing DVT

Prevention, as the saying goes, is the best medicine. Here are some tips for preventing DVT:

  • If you're confined to a bed, get moving as soon as possible.
  • If you sit for long periods, get up and walk around every two to three hours.
  • If you can't get up (let's say you're on a long flight that has the “fasten seat belt” sign lit), exercise your legs by raising and lowering your heels while keeping your toes on the floor or tightening and releasing your leg muscles.
  • Wear loose-fitting clothing.
  • Stay hydrated; avoid alcohol or caffeine.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • If you smoke, quit.

What if You Have Risk Factors for DVT?

Aside from following the above suggestions, you might want to consider wearing compression stockings, especially when you travel or will be sitting for prolonged periods. Also, talk to your health care provider about certain medications (like anticoagulants) that may help prevent the condition.

Comments

This happened to my hubby in 2010. We are so lucky he survived, but it was VERY scary.

How fortunate that your husband was able to get through this situation, Roxanne.

As a frequent flyer, I'm really appreciative of these reminders. I, too, remember the sad story about David Bloom.

I remember this too and it was a big wake up call. I am always careful to do exercises on long plane rides.

I have a friend who lost her 40-something year old husband to this. He had recent surgery and then went on a long plane ride. Thanks for the reminder and the warning signals.

It's amazing once the subject comes up, how many stories come out. How tragic.

I've been working diligently toward getting up and moving on a regular basis, but sometimes I do get caught up in a project and forget. Thanks for these reminders.

I worry about this, because I spend most of the day sitting in front of this computer. But try to get out for a walk every day, so I guess that's a "step" in the right direction.

Me too, Jane. That's why I try to get up and walk around every hour or so...and of course, get to the gym as often as possible.

This happen to me in 2009 ... I had no clue what was happening. My right leg was swollen and I could barely walk before I went to the ER. The ER staff told me that I came just in time, it could have been deadly as I had several clots behind my knee. At the time, I had just started a new job as a Bus Driver. I was hospitalized for 9 days. I now wear a compression stocking when traveling long distances and have not been on a plane since. I was advised to take low-dose (81mg) aspirin daily. I now avoid sitting for extended periods of time and I also watch what I eat.

Wow - were you lucky. Good thing you got to the ER when you did; it was lifesaving for you. So happy it all turned out okay and you're proactive about staying healthy.

How fortunate you were to have gotten help just in time! Glad you've been able to make healthy changes in your life. A health scare forces us to look at things differently, doesn't it?

I'm about to hop on a long flight, so thanks for this; can't be reminded too often of these silent threats.

Hope it's a long flight to somewhere fun, Ruth!

This is especially great advice for travelers. When you're on a 5+ hour flight, it's always a good idea to at least get out of your seat and do some toe raises. The fasten seat belt sign is rarely lighted for an entire trip forcing you to stay in your seat. And perhaps taking a baby aspirin before the flight -- unless it's contraindicated -- might be a good way to prevent DVT as well, unless you're already on anticoagulants.

Hadn't thought about the baby aspirin...that would be a good thing to discuss with your doctor before a long trip.

I need to keep this in mind. Sometimes I sit at my desk working for hours on end--staying active is key, isn't it?

Yes, staying active is so key to preventing problems like this.

This is the first time I am reading about this condition called Deep Vein Thrombosis. As the title mentions, it is a hidden threat and it was scary to know about the dangerous part of this Deep Vein thrombosis condition.

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