Just what is a deep vein thrombosis and what, if anything, can you do to prevent it from developing?
Lexington was tied to the illness last month when Men's Health magazine cited a high number of deaths from deep vein thrombosis as one of the reasons it dubbed the city the least active in America.
Health officials said at the time that Lexington was a medical hub for a health-challenged state, which could account for those high numbers, but, still, what exactly are we talking about?
Dr. Eleftherios S. Xenos, assistant professor of surgery at University of Kentucky, answered some questions.
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Question: What is deep vein thrombosis?
Answer: It is a blood clot that forms in a vein deep in the body. Blood clots occur when blood thickens and clumps together. They usually occur in the leg, although they can develop in other parts of the body.
Q: Why is it a significant health risk?
A: It can damage the vein. The clot, or embolus, can break off and travel to the lung, which can cause a pulmonary embolism, or a blockage of the lung. This can cause permanent damage to the lung or death.
Q: What are the risk factors for developing deep vein thrombosis?
A: Confinement in bed, cancer, use of oral contraceptives or diseases that make individuals prone to developing blood clots. Sitting for long periods can also contribute to the creation of deep vein thrombosis. People over 50 and those who are obese or diabetic also have a higher risk of deep vein thrombosis.
Q: What can someone do to avoid a deep vein thrombosis?
A: You need to make sure the blood is moving through your legs. The only thing that makes your blood move from your legs to your heart is the contraction of the muscles in the legs. Flexing your calf muscles squeezes the blood upward.
If you know you are going to be sitting for a long trip, it's good to take an aspirin before you leave. If there is a family history of this problem, you should be tested to see if you are more prone to develop blood clots.
Q: What are the symptoms of a blood clot or deep vein thrombosis?
A: Swelling in the foot, calf or ankle. The leg may take on a bluish tinge. Usually only one leg will swell. If there is pain it is usually minimal, like a muscle cramp. People often don't realize they are having a problem.
Q: What should you do if you suspect you have a deep vein thrombosis?
A: If there is a sudden onset of swelling in one leg, go to see your doctor, who should do an ultrasound to determine if there is a clot. If you can't get in to see your doctor within 24 hours, go to the emergency room. You shouldn't wait more than a day before seeing a medical professional.
Q: What is the best case scenario for treatment?
A: The doctor will prescribe a blood thinner, and the patient will have to wear a compression stocking for a number of weeks.
Q: If you suffer from one deep vein thrombosis, are you likely to develop others?
A: Once you have one there is a high risk for recurrence.