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March is Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) Awareness Month

October 13 is World Thrombosis Day

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Did you know? 

  • Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism (PE) affect upwards of 600,000 Americans each year and cause more deaths each year than the more well-publicized conditions of breast cancer, AIDS,and motor vehicle accidents.[i]
  • DVT/PE are a leading cause of preventable hospital deaths in the United States. [ii]
  • DVT/PE are the leading cause of maternal death in the United States.[iii]
  • One-half of DVT/PE patients will have long-term complications and one-third will have a recurrence within 10 years.[iv]
  • An estimated $10 billion in medical costs in the US each year can be attributed to DVT and PE.[v]

 Learn more: 

A. What is deep vein thrombosis (DVT)?
B. What are the symptoms of DVT?
C. What is pulmonary embolism (PE)?
D. What are the symptoms of PE? 
E. What causes DVT and PE?
F. How can DVT and PE be prevented?
H. I've experienced DVT or PE.  What do I need to know?  
I. What can I do to increase awareness? 

 

What is deep vein thrombosis (DVT)?

When a clot forms in the deep veins of the body, it is called deep vein thrombosis, often referred to as DVT for short.  DVT occurs most commonly in the leg; although it can occur anywhere in the body, such as the veins in the arm, abdomen, or around the brain.

Symptoms of deep vein thrombosis (DVT):

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Discoloration (bluish, purplish or reddish skin color)
  • Warmth
Symptoms may range from mild and barely noticeable to severe. Symptoms may also be subtle and easily confused with other medical conditions, such as a pulled muscle or sprained ankle.   

 

What is pulmonary embolism (PE)? 

A potentially life-threatening complication of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is pulmonary embolism, often referred to as PE for short. A PE occurs when a blood clot breaks off, travels through the blood stream and lodges in the lung.

Symptoms of pulmonary embolism (PE):

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain (which may be worse with deep breath)
  • Unexplained cough (may cough up blood)
  • Unexplained rapid heart rate
Symptoms may range from mild and barely noticeable to severe. Symptoms may also be subtle and easily confused with other medical conditions, such as a respiratory infection or onset of asthma.

 

What Causes DVT and PE?

Blood clots may form when either the flow of blood in a vein slows, damage to a vein occurs, or the blood is more clotable. Many factors can increase a person’s risk for developing a blood clot in a vein. 

Common risk factors for developing a blood clot include:

 

Immobility:

Hospitalization
Being paralyzed
Prolonged sitting

Surgery and Trauma:

Major surgery (especially of the pelvis, abdomen, hip, knee)
Bone fracture or cast
Catheter in a big vein (PICC line, central venous catheter, or port)

Increased estrogens:

Birth control pills, patches, rings
Pregnancy, including up to 6 weeks after giving birth
Hormone replacement therapy

Medical conditions:

Cancer and chemotherapy
Heart failure
Inflammatory disorders (lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease)
The kidney disorder called nephrotic syndrome

Other risk factors:

Previous blood clot
Family history of clots
Clotting disorder (inherited or acquired)
Obesity
Older age
Cigarette smoking
Varicose veins

 

Tips for Preventing DVT and PE

  • Stay active.  Immobility increases the risk of developing clots. If you've been sitting for a long period of time (such as long-distance travel)   stop and take a break to stretch your legs.
  • Maintain an ideal body weight.  Don't smoke. 
  • Know your risk factors for developing a clot (above) and discuss these with your doctor.
  • Know your family medical history.  Make sure your doctor knows about any history of blood clots.
  • If you are hospitalized or planning for surgery, ask your doctor:   ‘What will be done to prevent blood clots?’ You may be given a blood-thinning medication (anticoagulant) or special stockings designed to prevent blood clots.  These blood clot prevention measures are called 'DVT prophylaxis'.
  • If you suspect DVT or PE, don't delay seeking medical attention.  Many complications can be prevented with prompt diagnosis and treatment.  

 

 DVT + PE = VTE

Together, deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism (PE) are known as venous thromboembolism (VTE)

REFERENCES

[i] Nabel, Elizabeth MD (Director, NIH’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute) in the Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent Deep Vein Thrombosis and Pulmonary Embolism US Department of Health and Human Services 2008 p. 5.

[ii] Baglin TP, White K, Charles A. Fatal pulmonary embolism in hospitalized medical patients. J Clin Pathol 1997;50(7):609-10.

[iii] Berg CJ, Atrash HK, Koonin LM, Tucker M. “Pregnancy-related mortality in the United States 1987-1990”. Obstet Gynecol 1996;88(2):161-7 Also see Marik. P.E. and Plante, L.A. “Venous Thromboembolic Disease and Pregnancy”. New England Journal of Medicine, volume 359, number 19, November 6, 2008, pages 2025-2033.

[iv]   Beckman MG, Hooper WC, Critchley SE, Ortel TL. Venous thromboembolism: a public health concern.Am J Prev Med. 2010 Apr;38(4 Suppl):S495-501.

[v] Gross, Scott. CDC “Incidence based cost-estimates require population based incidence data” 2012 http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/Grosse/cost-grosse-Thrombosis.pdf