The major problem associated with DVT is that part or all of a clot may come loose and travel to the heart and, from there, directly to the lungs. This is called a pulmonary embolism, and it can be very serious and sometimes fatal. It is estimated that about 350,000 Americans a year are affected by DVT or pulmonary embolism.
Certain factors can make one more prone to this condition:
- Sitting for long periods of time, such as when driving or, especially, flying
- Prolonged bed rest, such as during hospital stays or chronic illness at home
- Recent surgery or injury involving major broken bones
- Blood clotting disorders
- A history of DVT
- Cigarette smoking
Symptoms of DVT may include swelling in a leg (usually only one is involved); leg pain, usually in the calf; and redness or warmth over the problem area.
Symptoms of pulmonary embolism are unexplained shortness of breath or chest pain; a feeling of light-headedness or dizziness; and coughing up blood.
For most healthy adults, DVT is very rare. If you feel that you are at risk, or to prevent a recurrent episode, consider the following:
- Take precautions while traveling. Stay well hydrated with nonalcoholic drinks. Take hourly breaks from sitting to walk around, or at least exercise your calf muscles while seated.
- Make healthy changes, such as losing weight and stopping smoking.
- Follow the instructions from your doctor if you have recently had surgery or a serious illness.
Terry Hollenbeck, M.D., is an urgent-care physician at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation Santa Cruz in Scotts Valley. A doctor with 36 years’ experience, he invites readers to view all of his previous articles at his Web site, valleydoctor.wordpress.com. Information in this column is not intended to replace advice from your own health care professional. For any medical concern, consult your own doctor.