Do you notice a heavy, burning, or aching feeling in your legs, especially after exercising? Do you have swelling, redness, or discoloration in one or both legs? Do you have varicose veins? How about pain or tenderness when standing for long periods?
Some of these symptoms could be normal signs of aging, or post-exercise fatigue. However, they could also be signs of a condition known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
What is a Deep Vein Thrombosis?
A deep vein thrombosis is a clot in one or more veins deep within your leg. They are not related to varicose veins, but the clot can increase pressure in the surface veins, causing them to bulge. DVTs themselves are not visible and, in the early stages, you may not even be aware of their existence.
Risks Associated with DVTs.
DVTs pose two distinct risks:
If the clot remains in the leg, it can cut off blood supply to the muscles and other tissues in the leg. Over time the muscle and surrounding tissues could die – a condition called ischemia.
If the clot moves, or part of it breaks off, it could travel through the bloodstream and block a smaller blood vessel somewhere else in your body. A moving blood clot is known as an embolus, and emboli from DVT often lodge in the lungs – a condition known as a pulmonary embolism. Pulmonary embolisms are potentially life-threatening.
Preventing Ischemia and Pulmonary Embolism
DVTs are very serious and always need medical intervention.
Your doctor could prescribe medications to break down the clot and prevent new clots. Medications include anticoagulants, also known as blood thinners, which prevent blood from clotting; thrombin inhibitors, which also prevent clotting; and thrombolytics, which dissolve clots.
If the clot is very large, does not respond to medication, or if you can’t take the medications, your doctor could surgically remove the clot and insert a vena cava filter, which will catch and filter blood clots before they can travel to the lungs.
In addition to the other treatments, your doctor could recommend that you wear anti embolism stockings. Anti-embolism stockings are also known as graduated compression stockings. They provide external pressure to reduce the swelling caused by DVT, improve blood flow, and prevent clotting.
Being sedentary, especially sitting for long periods, is the biggest cause of DT. Hormonal birth control is another major cause, especially if smoking is also involved. Other causes include heredity and leg injuries.
Physical activity is one of the best ways to prevent DVTs. Thirty minutes a day, most days a week, are enough to encourage healthy blood flow. If you have a sedentary job, you should take breaks to stand or walk around, whenever possible.
You can also prevent DVTs by:
- Quitting smoking
- Using alternatives to hormonal birth control
- Having your doctor prescribe low-dose aspirin
Contact your physician immediately if you suspect that you have any of the symptoms described in the beginning of this article, or if you experience any of the following:
- Pain when you take a deep breath
- Shortness of breath with no known cause
- Rapid breathing
- A rapid heart rate and/or
- Coughing up blood