Be Clot Aware
DVT: The common, yet often silent killer
Obesity. Smoking. High blood pressure. Almost everyone knows these are hazards to your health. But did you know that dehydration, a recent pregnancy, prolonged immobility, varicose veins and birth control pills can also trigger a life-threatening condition that kills more people annually than breast cancer and AIDS combined?
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) threatens nearly one million Americans each year. Yet, surprisingly, many people have little or no awareness of this condition or know how to recognize its signs and symptoms. DVT occurs when a blood clot forms in one of the large veins, usually in the legs, leading to either partially or completely blocked circulation. If left untreated, this clot has the potential to move into the lungs and produce a pulmonary embolism requiring immediate medical attention. Although preventable, almost 300,000 Americans die annually from DVT and its primary complication, pulmonary embolism.
Fortunately, if caught in time, DVT is completely treatable. The classic signs of DVT, especially if it occurs in the lower extremities, are leg pain, swelling, tenderness, and redness or discoloration of the skin. The bad news is that, about half of the time, DVT has no symptoms at all. By the time you show symptoms of a pulmonary embolism, it might be too late for you to receive emergency care. Typical symptoms of a pulmonary embolism are: shortness of breath, rapid pulse, sweating, sharp chest pain that worsens with deep breathing, low blood pressure, unconsciousness and coughing up blood.
The first and most important step in protecting yourself from a potentially fatal DVT is to know whether you are at risk. Then, be sure to discuss the test results with your doctor to determine what you can do to protect yourself from a future DVT.
DVT: An equal opportunity killer
DVT does not discriminate by age, race or gender. Anyone can be affected under the right circumstances, even if they are otherwise healthy and active.
For instance, professional athletes have received treatment for DVT, including tennis star Serena Williams and baseball player Tony Gwynn. Politicians are not immune either, as President Richard Nixon, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Vice Presidents Dick Cheney and Dan Quayle experienced DVT.
In 2011, legendary rapper Heavy D died at the age of 44 as a result of a DVT. And in 2003, NBC war correspondent David Bloom died at the age of 39 while covering the war in Iraq. His death was blamed on a pulmonary embolism originating from a blood clot in his leg. Prior to collapsing, Bloom had spent days cramped and overheated in a military tank.
Some of the high-profile DVT cases were believed to be the result of lengthy air travel. DVT is often referred to as “economy-class syndrome” or “traveler’s thrombosis” because long flights in coach cabins occasionally have led to DVT-related fatalities. But DVT is not class conscious. President Nixon’s DVT was believed to have developed while traveling on Air Force One to China.
Performing a thorough history and physical gives you knowledge about your patient as if they were a good friend.