March is National Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) Awareness Month, and here at For Your Legs we want to give you all the information you need to help you prevent developing a DVT. Did you know, traveling, sitting (for longer than 4 hours) as well as hospital stays or extended immobility can actually increase your chances of developing Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), or blood clots? According to the American Heart Association, about 2 million Americans suffer from DVT (more commonly know as a blood clot) each year. That is more than the annual amount affected by stroke or heart attack. According to a national survey sponsored by the American Public Health Association, most Americans (74 percent) have little or no awareness of DVT.
What is Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)?
DVT occurs when a thrombus (blood clot) forms in deep veins. Most often, DVT occurs in the leg, which results in blocked circulation. While a DVT below the knee is unlikely to create serious complications, blood clots above the knee can sometimes break off and travel up the bloodstream. This could result in a blocked blood vessel in the lung, also known as a pulmonary embolism.
DVT and Travel
Many people have even coined the term “economy class syndrome” to describe DVT, which occurs during and after long flights. When sitting for long periods of time, the risk of DVT increases. In fact, prolonged sitting with bent legs and/or restricted leg mobility is the main cause of a DVT. When you are walking around, the leg muscles serve as a pump system that supports the venous return from the feet to the heart. When you're sitting, leg movement is limited, which means this pumping system becomes restricted, which causes the blood to become stagnant in the leg veins. Ultimately, this could lead to the development of a thrombotic event, which becomes further increased during prolonged periods of sitting.
Common Signs and Diagnosis
The most common sign of a DVT is leg pain or swelling, however, it can also result in discoloration and sometimes even abnormally hot skin in the affected area. Unfortunately, in some instances, a DVT will have no symptoms. The most accurate ways to diagnose a DVT are through a venous ultrasound, venography or impedance plethysmography. A venous ultrasound uses sound waves to produce images of veins in the body, it does not use ionizing radiation and has no known harmful effects. Venography is a radiography of a vein after injection of a radiopaque fluid. Lastly, there is impedance plethysmography, which is a non-invasive medical test that measures small changes in electrical resistance of the chest, calf or other regions of the body. These measurements reflect blood volume changes, which helps indirectly indicate the absence or presence of venous thrombosis.
Symptoms of a DVT Include:
- Swelling in the affected leg (rarely you will find swelling in both legs)
- A feeling of warmth in the affected leg
- Red or discolored skin on the leg
- Pain in your leg that oftentimes begins in the calf (feels like soreness or cramping)
What factors increase your chances of developing a DVT?
There are many factors that can increase your risk of developing DVT. You have a risk of developing a DVT if you have one or more of the following:
- Sitting for long periods of time
- Cancer patient
- Recent surgery
- Prolonged bed rest
- Age 60 or older
- Hormonal birth control
- Blood clotting disorder
- Heart failure
Tips for preventing DVT
- Avoid alcohol and make sure you’re drinking plenty of water, dehydration one of the leading causes of DVT.
- Watch your salt intake. Too much salt will elevate your blood pressure, which increases your risk for blood clots.
- Get up and stretch regularly, whether you’re at home or traveling make sure you’re moving.
Pro Tip: Walk around more than just to get up and go to the bathroom. Do not sit with your legs crossed. You want to make sure you are increasing the blood flow in your legs, and not preventing blood from flowing with crossed legs. Rotate your ankles in a circular motion every once in a while to increase blood flow and prevent your ankles from getting stiff.
- Opt for less restrictive garments, especially when you are sitting for extended periods of time.
- Invest in a pair of compression socks or stockings. Compression socks and stockings are designed to provide the greatest amount of pressure at the ankle and gradually less as it heads upwards towards the thigh. This pressure helps reduce the pooling of blood in the legs, as well as aids in reducing swelling and leg pain that is associated with travel.
We recommend you start with 15-20 mmHg compression level, especially if you have never worn compression socks or stockings before. If you are concerned about your risk of DVT, please see a doctor or medical professional.