How to recognize and prevent life-threatening blood clots

May 23, 2019 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health
Categories: Healthy Driven Hearts

If you’ve ever been in a hospital for any length of time, chances are you’ve come in contact with leg cuffs. You know the ones.

Medically known as intermittent pneumatic compression devices, the cuffs wrap around your calves and occasionally tighten to keep blood flowing.

They can be annoying, but their ability to help prevent blood clots could potentially save your life.

Behind heart attacks and strokes, venous thromboembolism (VTE) is the third leading vascular disease affecting between 300,000 to 600,000 Americans each year.  Though treatable, VTEs can lead to complications and, in some cases, death.

It is important to know the signs and symptoms and to take steps with your doctor to treat it.

VTE is a blood clot that starts in the vein. There are two types. Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot in a deep vein, usually in the leg. Pulmonary embolism (PE) occurs when a DVT clot breaks free and travels to the lungs and blocks the blood supply, sometimes proving fatal.

The most common causes for VTEs are immobilization (think long drives, being laid up after an injury, or a long plane ride), surgery, hospitalization and cancer. Other factors such as your weight, whether you smoke, if you’ve taken hormones and your age can play a role as well.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 60,000 to 100,000 people die each year from VTEs. The CDC estimates as many as 900,000 Americans are affected by VTEs (approximately 1 or 2 out of every 1,000 people).

Some of the warning signs of DVT include:

  • Leg pain or tenderness in the thigh or calf
  • Swelling in the leg
  • Skin that feels warm to the touch
  • Redness of the skin or reddish streaks

If you experience any of the following symptoms, it could be a PE:

  • Unexplained shortness of breath or rapid breathing
  • Chest pain under the rib cage
  • Coughing up blood
  • Fainting

Both DVT and PE are serious conditions and early diagnosis is key. Contact your doctor if you experience any of the symptoms. Your doctor may run tests that include blood work, CT scans or ultrasounds of the leg to determine if you have a clot. Treatment may include blood thinners, medication to break up the clot or, in some cases, surgery to remove the clot.

There are simple steps you can take to help prevent VTE. The best one is simply to move around. If you sit for long periods of time at work, get up from your desk and walk around for a few minutes.

If you are going to be laid up for a lengthy period due to an injury, talk to your doctor about what you can do to help prevent clotting. And if you’re in the hospital, wear the leg cuffs and take a walk down the hallway when you are able.

At Edward-Elmhurst Health, you’ll find expert, high quality care for peripheral vascular disease (PVD), the broad term for circulatory disorders. Learn more.

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