Risk Factors For Deep Vein Thrombosis

Our blood is the body’s lifeline in that it is responsible for delivering nutrients and oxygen to all the body’s cells. When it is unable to do this, for example when we have problems in our blood circulation, cells and in turn tissues and muscles, suffocate and die. This is why it is necessary to be aware if you are at risk for circulatory problems.

One of the common circulatory problems is known as deep vein thrombosis or DVT. This is when a blood occurs in the deep veins, usually in one’s legs or thighs. This condition comes with pain and swelling of the affected areas. Also, it can lead to embolisms or when the blood clots break off and get carried by the blood to arteries in the lungs, heart and brain which when blocked can be fatal.

Young woman bicycling.How then does one know if you are at risk for such a condition?

DVT is acquired when one engages in long period of inactivity. Which means if you are a frequent traveler who goes on long haul flights, you can be at risk. The same is true for those who have undergone major surgeries which requires extensive hospitalization and bed rest. Also, smokers are highly susceptible to DVT. Smoking entails introducing chemicals such as carbon monoxide and nicotine into the blood stream which restricts the arteries. One is also at risk when one is obese. The build-up of fat increase the blockage in veins and arteries and clots easily occur. Another risk factor is pregnancy as it restricts blood flow to the thighs and the legs which puts both pregnant women and those within six months after giving birth at risk.

Additional risks include age and genetic factors. Studies show that those sixty and above are found to be more susceptible to DVT. Also one could also be born with blood which easily clots, an example would be an inherited blood disorder known as factor V Leiden.

One is also at risk when taking hormone therapy, using birth control pills, undergoing or have recently undergone treatment for cancer.

Perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions about DVT is that only those with the risk factors above are susceptible to getting Deep Venous Thrombosis. Did you know that athletes may be at even higher risk in some cases for DVT than other people? Up to 85% of deep venous thrombosis occurs in athletic or endurance athletes. This means if you are a runner, biker, or even just a very fit individual who follows the right advice about taking care of yourself—you need to take extra precautions to prevent DVT.

There is no second chance for some patients who get DVT. It can be fatal, causing an embolism or stroke, when the blood clots break off from the legs or arms and move to the heart, lungs, or brain of the affected person.

When traveling many of us may not drink as much liquids as we should, which also puts us at risk for developing DVT.  The thicker blood in your system as a result of DVT is cause to slow down the blood—making DVT more likely than if you are not dehydrated.  Although many people enjoy alcoholic beverages, especially during holiday periods, drinking alcohol can dehydrate you even further, which makes your blood more apt to clot.

Temperature can also impact the likelihood of getting DVT.  As the cold constricts your veins, DVT occurrences increase. [Gallerani, Boari, de Toma, Salmi, & Manfredini, “Seasonal Variation in the Occurrence of Deep Vein Thrombosis”, University of Ferrara, Italy]

But how does this impact those of you who are athletic individuals? Well, for starters, athletes generally have lower resting heart rates. A consequence of this is that less blood flows through the body when the heart rate is lower. Because athletes are used to ignoring small aches and pains, this can also further contribute to these individuals delaying medical care. Symptoms you may notice may be as small as an increased tightness or crampiness in a leg muscle, for example in your calf.  You may find that the area is swollen and think that if you simply stretch it or don’t push as hard during your workouts that this will go away.  Some people may find there is a reddish-blue coloration in the area of the body, normally legs but sometimes even arms that is affected. If in doubt at all, make sure to see your doctor because only an ultrasound can determine whether or not you may have a DVT. Many times even physicians who are traveling themselves may not recognize the difference between a DVT and a simple leg cramp.

DVT may show up several days after air travel, and thus it has been termed the “stealth disease” by physicians such as Dr. Stanley Mohler, Director of Aerospace Medicine at Wright State Medical School.

During this holiday season, please be aware that if you are an athlete or very fit, it is important to realize that your risk for Deep Venous Thrombosis may be greater than some of the coach potatoes who may also be heading home for the holidays.