10 Ways to Prevent Deep Vein Thrombosis
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every year 1 to 2 out of 1,000 Americans develops deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and/or pulmonary embolism, a blockage in the blood vessels of the lungs that can result from DVT. Among people over the age of 80, this figure may jump as high as 1 in 100. Deep vein thrombosis — a blood clot in deep veins in the legs, arms, and neck — produces pain and swelling and can lead to serious health complications if not treated properly. Fortunately, there are steps you can take today to help prevent DVT. Read on to learn how you can lessen your risk of developing these blood clots.
Get Annual Checkups
The best way to lower your risk of developing DVT is to prevent it in the first place. Start by getting an annual checkup so you can discuss any health concerns with your physician. If you have a family history of blood-clotting disorders, for instance, alert your doctor. Inheriting a blood-clotting disorder can increase your risk of developing DVT. Other health conditions that are tied to DVT include cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, lung disease, and heart disease.
Take Your Medications as Prescribed
Some drugs prescribed for other health conditions may increase your risk of developing DVT, especially if you are not taking them as directed. If you've been diagnosed with a cardiovascular condition such as heart disease, be sure to follow your doctor's prescription directions to the letter.
If you're scheduled for surgery, you will likely be given blood-thinning drugs beforehand to prevent clotting, but it's important to take some precautions when you're using these medications. Experts at the Mayo Clinic advise patients who are taking blood thinners to monitor their intake of vitamin K, which can have a negative effect on blood-thinning drugs. Foods with vitamin K include dark leafy greens, such as kale and spinach, and beef liver. Additionally, some types of cancer treatment can increase the risk of blood clots. Talk to your doctor about any concerns you may have regarding your prescriptions and the risk of blood clots.
Move Around After Surgery
Surgery and any other injury to the veins are major risk factors for developing DVT, because they slow your blood flow. So the sooner you can start safely moving after an illness or surgery, the better. Ask a nurse or doctor if you're not sure you're ready. Getting out of bed and stimulating the blood flow in your legs and throughout your body will help lower your risk of developing post-surgical clots.
A sedentary lifestyle isn't healthy for anyone, and it's especially hazardous for people who have a genetic predisposition to clotting, or have another health condition that puts them at risk for DVT. Sitting for long periods of time will impede your blood circulation, which increases your risk of DVT. A sedentary lifestyle can also contribute to obesity, another risk factor for DVT. Being active doesn't mean you need to become a gym rat — just find activities you enjoy doing and try to move throughout the day.
Get Up and Move During Long Trips
Just as being sedentary during your normal routine isn't healthy, sitting for extended periods of time in an airplane, train, bus, or car can increase your risk for DVT. When traveling on long trips, get up and walk around to stretch your muscles at least once every two to three hours, suggests Lori Mosca, MD, professor of medicine at Columbia University Medical Center in New York and director of preventive cardiology at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. If you're worried about your DVT risk, address your concerns with your doctor before you travel. While it's unlikely that you'll develop DVT during your travels, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) says that your chances may increase if you have other risk factors for DVT or if your travel time will exceed four hours.
Improve Leg Circulation With Compression Stockings
If your legs are prone to swelling due to DVT, talk to your health care provider about using compression stockings. These specially-fitted stockings — which look like long socks and are worn from the foot to about knee-level — create firm pressure on the foot and lower part of the leg and gradually become less tight higher up. This pressure helps push blood to return to the heart instead of pooling and clotting in the legs, which can reduce swelling and help prevent DVT. Compression stockings are especially good to wear on long trips — in fact, one study found that people who wore compression stockings on long flights significantly cut their risk of developing DVT compared to those who didn't wear compression stockings. Note that talking to your doctor and getting the right size of stockings is important, as some people (such as those with diabetes) may not be able to tolerate a high level of compression.
Be Mindful of Moving at Work
If you work in an office and sit at a desk all day, Dr. Mosca suggests doing simple leg exercises, such as curling or pressing your toes down toward the floor several times a day. These movements, as well as getting up and walking around throughout the day, will help lower your risk of DVT. If you get immersed in work or forget, set a reminder on your computer to get up and stretch at regular times. Additionally, if you tend to sit with your legs crossed for long periods, Mosca advises breaking the habit, since sitting this way can further restrict or slow the blood flow in your legs.
Watch Your Weight
Because of the added pressure that extra pounds can put on the veins in your pelvis and legs, it's important to maintain a healthy weight, especially if you know that you're already at risk for DVT. If you are overweight or obese, talk to your doctor about making improvements in your diet, starting a fitness regimen, and finding support to help with your weight loss. Even losing just a small amount, such as 5 to 10 percent of your current weight, can help reduce your risk for health problems.
Control Your Blood Pressure
You probably know that uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to cardiovascular complications, such as stroke, heart attack, and heart failure. But you may not know that high blood pressure can also lead to deep vein thrombosis. If you're already at risk for DVT, or if you have a family history of DVT, pulmonary embolism, or other blood-clotting disorders, it's especially critical to maintain a healthy blood pressure.
Health experts are constantly touting the health benefits of giving up smoking. The American Heart Association says it's "the most important preventable cause of premature death in the United States." In addition to reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, lung problems, and certain cancers, quitting smoking may also benefit those at risk for DVT. Smoking increases high blood pressure, another DVT risk factor. It also interferes with circulation and increases the tendency for blood to clot, according to experts at the Mayo Clinic and the NHLBI. If you want to kick the habit, resources such as the free quitline 1-800-QUIT-NOW can help.
Be Aware of DVT Symptoms
The most common symptoms of DVT are swelling, pain, or unusual redness or warmth in one of the legs, but these symptoms could also appear in your ankle, foot, arm, or neck. Alert your doctor right away if you think you're experiencing symptoms of DVT. If you experience more severe symptoms, such as chest pain, shortness of breath, or dizziness, or if you're lightheaded or coughing up blood, you may be having a pulmonary embolism, and you should seek medical attention immediately.
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