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Deep vein thrombosis

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot that forms in a vein deep in the body. Blood clots happen when the blood's tendency to thicken and stick together increases. Most deep vein blood clots occur in the lower leg or thigh. They also can occur in other parts of the body.

A blood clot in a deep vein can break off and travel through the bloodstream. The loose clot is called an embolus). It can travel to an artery in the lungs and block blood flow. This condition is called pulmonary embolism (PE).

A pulmonary embolism is a very serious health problem. It can damage the lungs and other organs of the body, even causing death.

The blood clots that form in the thighs have more probabilities of breaking loose and causing a pulmonary embolism than those that form in the lower leg or other parts of the body.

Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of deep vein thrombosis can be caused DVT itself or by the pulmonary embolism. Both can lead to serious problems, even death, if not treated.

1. Deep vein thrombosis

Only about half of those who have DVT have signs or symptoms. They are apparent in the leg that has the clot or the thrombosis:

  • Swelling of the leg or along a vein in the leg
  • Pain or tenderness in the leg that may only be evident when standing or walking
  • A feeling of increased warmth in the area of the leg that is swollen or painful
  • Red or discolored skin on the affected leg

 

2. Pulmonary embolism

Some persons do not realize that the have a blood clot in a deep vein until they experience the signs and symptoms of the PE:

  • Unexplained shortness of breath
  • Chest pain when breathing deeply
  • Coughing up blood.

 

Accelerated breathing or an arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) may also be signs of pulmonary embolism.

Prevention

There are measures that can be taken to prevent deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism:

  • Get up from the bed and move as soon as possible after a surgery or an illness requiring bed rest, following the doctor's recommendations. Moving reduces the probabilities of a blood clot forming.
  • Exercise the calf muscles during long trips to avoid clot formation
  • Use compression stockings to prevent swelling in the legs

 

What to do when traveling.

The risk increases if travel time is longer than 4 hours or if there are other DVT risk factors. During long trips it is convenient to:

  • Walk in the aisle of the bus, train or plane
  • Move the legs and flex and stretch the feet to improve circulation in the calf muscles. Do not cross your legs when sitting for a long while because this can limit blood flow
  • Use loose comfortable clothing
  • Drink plenty of liquids and avoid alcoholic beverages

Gene or region studied

  • SELE
  • F5
  • LPL
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