If you sit for extended periods of time, such as during airplane travel or during long road trips, or if you have certain medical conditions, you may be at risk for “Deep Vein Thrombosis” (DVT), or blood clots that form deep in your veins. These clots are dangerous because they can dislodge from your veins and cause sudden death by passing into the lungs, disrupting blood flow, and creating dangerous changes in your heart and lung blood pressures.
A sizeable blood clot that lodges in the lungs can kill a person instantly. I know because I witnessed this on more than one occasion during my internship in Internal Medicine and my residency in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. Once big clots enter the lungs, there’s very little you can do to save the person.
Sadly, about half of the time, there’s no outward sign of DVTs. But when there are signs, patients usually complain of calf pain and swelling. They may also have pain on squeezing the leg or when they abruptly bend the ankle upward (this is known as Homan’s sign).
Several factors in addition to the sedentary lifestyle predispose to clots. One factor is family history. Another is the use of oral contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy. Still another is smoking. Additional factors include trauma (including venous catheter trauma), advanced age, cancer, elevated platelet counts, immobility or paralysis of the area (such as due to casting), plane travel, surgery, pregnancy, heart failure, obesity, or a personal history of blood clots.
One diagnostic test for DVTs is an ultrasound scan called a “Venous Doppler” study. Another test measures blood levels of “D-dimer,” which is a natural clot-dissolver found in elevated levels in case of DVT.
If you test positive for a blood clot, your doctor will most likely admit you to the hospital for and start you on clot busters or blood thinners. Sometimes, you might even have a “filter” inserted into the large vein in your abdomen (the vena cava) to trap clots that try to travel upstream to your lungs.
Now, let’s talk about the most important thing: blood clot prevention. First, try to minimize your chances of clotting. Quit smoking, get moving, and lose weight (if you need help with weight loss, check out my book, The Eden Diet. If you sit for prolonged periods of time, wear thigh-high compression hose, which are usually available at your local hospital supply store, and do “ankle-pumps,” where you bend your ankles up and down.
Depending on your risk factors, you may even want to talk with your physician about taking a medicine to prevent blood clots. As is true in many areas, when it comes to DVTs, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Or, in this case, an ounce of prevention might even save your life!