As we age, we all experience aches and pains — especially in our legs and feet. However, some leg pain could be the sign of something more serious than just age-related fatigue or exercise-induced soreness. Some leg pain could be a sign of a condition known as deep vein thrombosis, or DVT.
So what is deep vein thrombosis (DVT)?
A DVT is a blood clot in a vein deep within the tissues. Blood clots are most common in the legs, but they can occur anywhere in your body. DVT blood clots are usually not visible or in any other way detectible from the surface, and that is one of the things that make them so dangerous.
One of the best ways to prevent blood clots and DVT is to incorporate physical activity into your day. You don’t need to start running marathons, but as little as half an hour of exercise can make a big difference. Other ways to incorporate activity include:
- When you are at work, take frequent breaks to get up and walk around
- Make frequent stops on long road trips to get out and stretch your legs
- If you are on a long flight, get out of your seat and move around during the flight
Other ways to prevent blood clots or DVT include:
- If you are unable to move around much during your trip, wear compression stockings
- Drink lots of water
- Quit smoking
- Changing birth control methods
- If you have a family history of DVT, consult your doctor about taking daily low-dose aspirin, or a prescription blood thinner
- Elevate your legs when you are lying down, to aid blood flow
- Wear compression stockings
Your doctor may use ultrasound to detect the presence of a blood clot or DVT. If the ultrasound is inconclusive, he could also use a genogram, which is a type of radioactive imaging that photographs the blood flow through your veins.
DVT always requires immediate medical treatment.
- If a clot is small, a blood thinner like warfarin could dissolve the clot. After the initial dose, your doctor would have you continue taking daily doses for at least three months to prevent the clot from reappearing
- Larger or more serious DVTS could require surgical removal
- If the surgeon is unable to remove the DVT, he could insert a device in the vena cava (the large vein that leads to your heart) to prevent a clot from traveling up that vessel to the heart and lungs
Contact your physician immediately if you suspect that you have DVT.
Risks of DVT
DVT poses two major risks depending on how the disease behaves.
- If a blood clot stays in place, it can block the vein and cut off the blood supply to the tissues fed by the vein
- If a piece of a blood clot breaks off and moves through the bloodstream, also called an embolus, it can lodge in a blood vessel somewhere else and impair the function of a major organ, such as your heart, lungs or brain.
Symptoms of DVT
In addition to pain and tenderness in the affected leg, some symptoms of DVT include:
- Swelling and redness in the affected leg
- A feeling of heaviness in the affected leg
- The affected leg may also feel warm or look different from your other leg
However, it is also possible to have no symptoms at all. In fact, it is common for smaller blood clots from DVT to be symptom-free.
Causes of DVT
A sedentary lifestyle is one of the biggest culprits. This is because blood tends to pool in your lower legs when you sit for a long time. This is why your feet tend to swell on long trips.
Other factors include:
- Hormonal birth control, especially in conjunction with smoking
- An injury to the legs