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Protect Yourself From DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis)

Posted in General Health 06 May, 2015

National Thrombosis Week is upon us, and therefore looking into the facts behind this condition has never seemed so relevant. A bit of a mouthful, and therefore more commonly known as DVT, deep vein thrombosis affects approximately 1 in every 1,000 individuals in the UK.

Whilst it isn't very common, the effects can be dangerous or even fatal. If you're uncertain about what DVT is, there's a clue is in the title.

Deep vein thrombosis is a blood clot in one of the deep veins in your body, usually running through the calf or thigh. It can cause pain, and if untreated, the clot can move towards your lungs, causing a serious condition called pulmonary embolism.

Who is at risk?

The older you get the more likely you are to develop DVT, however, there are a number of other risk factors to consider that may result in a restricted blood flow or blood that clots more easily:

  • Cancer
  • Heart failure
  • Lung disease
  • Inactivity (for example after an operation)
  • Obesity (or being overweight)
  • Family history of blood clots
  • Previous blood clots
  • Existing blood vessel damage
  • Hepatitis
  • Inflammatory conditions
  • Thrombophilia
  • Hughes syndrome
  • Pregnancy
  • Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
  • Smoking
  • Dehydration

This seems like a never-ending list of risks, however if you have suffered from one or more of these factors, it doesn't necessarily mean you're going to get DVT. It's just an increased chance.

Risk factors

If your DVT isn't treated, the clot can develop into a pulmonary embolism – a blood clot located in your lungs having moved from the original place - with severe symptoms that require instant medical attention. To treat, you are given anticoagulant medicines that stop the blood clot getting bigger and, eventually, disperse it.

Symptoms of DVT

The tricky thing about DVT is that sometimes it may display no symptoms whatsoever. However, here are some possible symptoms you may experience:

  • Warm skin around the area of the clot
  • Aching around the affected area
  • Pain in one of your legs (usually focused around the calf area)
  • Tender and swollen skin (usually focused around the calf area)

From experience, you can have a number of these symptoms from an infected insect bite, for example, meaning DVT is extremely difficult to recognise.

Symptoms of pulmonary embolism

The symptoms of pulmonary embolism are more severe than DVT – it would be difficult to ignore. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms do seek medical help as soon as you can:

  • Breathlessness
  • Chest pain
  • Collapsing
  • Coughing

How to reduce the risks of DVT

With the no symptoms element resulting in many untreated cases of DVT, it is important to do what you can to reduce your risk:


  • Airplane exercises – if you're on a flight lasting more than 4 hours
  • Quit smoking
  • Exercise – regular exercises such as cycling and jogging will improve circulation
  • Healthy lifestyle – team your exercise regime with a new diet and stress reliving exercises such as yoga
  • Lower your blood pressure – get regular checks and seek medical advice on how to do this
  • Switch your contraception – if your family has a history of blood clots

Not only will these factors reduce the risk of DVT, but by monitoring your health frequently and embracing a healthy lifestyle, you can keep your blood pressure and cholesterol down, and reduce the risks of many other health conditions.

Treatment

Anticoagulation

Also referred to as "blood-thinning" medicine, anticoagulation medicines prevent the blood clot(s) from getting bigger and travelling around the body. There are two types of anticoagulants; heparin and warfarin:

Heparin

The most frequently prescribed medication for DVT is heparin, and this is also available in two forms:

  • Standard (unfractioned) heparin
  • Low molecular weight heparin (LMWH)

Warfarin

Warfarin can only be taken in oral tablet form and is often prescribed after taking the original heparin if your symptoms have not completely cleared up. This isn't one for the needle-phobes, with warfarin requiring two to three blood tests a week.

It may not have the same punch as the C word, or the coverage, but deep vein thrombosis is a potential killer and it's simple and essential to get yourself sorted.

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