March is Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) Awareness Month. The CDC estimates that “as many as 900,000 people” are affected by DVT in America each year, and yet most people don’t give this serious health condition a second thought. However, for those Americans with limited mobility, DVT is a condition that requires daily mindfulness and preventative action.
If you’ve never heard of it, you might be wondering what DVT is, and why it’s such a serious condition. Deep vein thrombosis is a blood clot that forms in the deep veins of a person’s extremities. Most often, it’s found in a person’s leg. The blood clot itself is dangerous, but not necessarily deadly until a piece of the clot breaks off from its origin point. From the leg, this piece of clot can travel upwards to your lungs and block an artery; this is known as a pulmonary embolism (PE) and is incredibly life-threatening.
DVT is most often associated with a sedentary lifestyle. When people sit or lie down for long periods time, their blood flow might become a bit slow or sluggish and more likely to clot. This is why people in wheelchairs or patients on bed rest tend to have higher odds of developing a blood clot. There are other risk factors, though, including age and increased body weight. A person also has a greater chance of developing DVT if they have a hereditary blood-clotting disorder, use hormonal birth control, have a family history of blood clots, or smoke.
If you or someone you know has limited mobility in their limbs or has a sedentary profession that requires long hours of sitting, there are preventative measures that you can take to avoid a potential blood clot. Here are a few of the most common prevention methods:
- Compression stockings or socks - It’s very common to see people in wheelchairs or patients in hospitals with limited mobility wearing medical-grade compression socks or stockings. These stockings are specially designed to prevent blood from pooling in your lower extremities.They also reduce swelling in the leg with tighter compression around the foot and graduated compression along the leg.
- Compression pump - Going a step further past compression stockings, a compression pump or sleeve wraps typically around the calf and constricts every so often to encourage the blood in the leg to flow at a regular pace despite the fact that the leg is not in use.
- Blood thinners - Blood thinners or anticoagulants are usually prescribed to bedridden patients at risk for DVT or to patients recovering from DVT or PE to prevent another blood clot from forming. However, blood thinners come with their own risks. For example, the anticoagulant Pradaxa has a long history of causing severe bleeding and even death in some patients. Even though blood thinners have helped thousands of people with DVT and PE, doctors have to remain cautious when prescribing the drugs because of the potential risks.
- Physical or manual therapy - Physical therapy is a great tool to help patients increase their mobility and prevent potential blood clots by moving and strengthening the muscles in the legs. For those individuals who are unable to move their lower extremities, manual therapy is another option. Massaging and manually moving the leg muscles can increase blood flow and prevent clots.
Depending on your lifestyle or medical history, the odds may be against you when it comes to DVT, but they don’t have to stay that way. By taking measures to move more or promote healthy blood flow in your extremities, you can reduce your risk and stop the clot head on. If a friend or loved one leads a sedentary lifestyle or lacks mobility, please share these helpful tips with them this month, and let’s protect as many people as we can from this harmful health condition.