riskDeep vein thrombosis (DVT) occurs when a vein is blocked by a blood clot, usually inside a leg.  Every year about 500,000 Americans experience DVT; DVT causes death in up to 20% of those cases. While the blood clot can dissolve on its own, the danger comes when part of the clot breaks off and travels to the lungs and blocks blood flow. This blockage can cause organ damage or death.

What are the Symptoms of DVT?

Symptoms can include swollen lower legs, redness, tenderness or pain. Unfortunately, 50% of people with DVT have no symptoms.

Who is at Risk for DVT?

Most people who develop blood clots have one or more other risks, such as obesity, cancer, are older than 40, varicose veins, or a catheter places in a large vein. Pregnancy also increases risk for DVT because of the additional pressure on veins in a woman’s pelvis and legs. The risk can continue for more than a month after delivery. Hormone replacement therapy and some birth control pills can also increase risk.

Damage to veins is another risk-factor for DVT. This damage can be caused by surgery, an injury, or a compromised immune system. A clot is also likely to form in blood that is thick or flows slowly from immobility, especially in a vein that’s already damaged. Patients who are paralyzed or recovering from a broken bone or surgery have higher risk for DVT.

Long-Distance Travelers and DVT

Are you someone who loves to travel to far-off places? Whether you travel by car, bus, train, or plane, long-distance travel has an added risk if you sit still for more than four hours. The longer you are immobile, the greater your risk of developing a blood clot.

When you’re on a long journey, set a timer to stretch and move around. Consider wearing compression socks, which put steady pressure on your legs to help blood flow. You can buy compression stockings at a store, but if you need ones with more pressure, your doctor can write a prescription.

Treatment for DVT

Drugs called anticoagulants (known as blood thinners) are the most common way to treat DVT. This medicine doesn’t really thin your blood. Instead, they help your blood to be less “sticky” and prevent new blood clots from forming. This mediation can’t break up an existing clot, but they help your body dissolve it eventually.

People who take anticoagulants may bruise often or bleed more easily. You’ll want to consult with your doctor to make sure you have the right amount.