DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis) Symptoms, Signs & Treatments: How to Reduce Your Risk
At HSL, we encourage all our customers to live a healthy lifestyle, including eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep and exercising regularly, regardless of age.
As we get older, we become more sedentary and this can put us at a higher risk of developing lots of different medical conditions, including deep vein thrombosis (DVT). So, we’ve put together an informative guide explaining what causes DVT, the common signs and symptoms to look out for, the available treatments, and lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your risk of getting one.
What is DVT?
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) refers to a blood clot or thrombus that can partially or completely block blood flow through a vein. They often occur in the lower leg, thigh or pelvis, but can also occur in other areas of the body.
Although DVT alone is not life-threatening, sometimes the blood clot may be dislodged causing it to move and block a vein or artery elsewhere in the body. This can stop blood and oxygen from getting past and causes the tissue supplied by the blocked vein or artery to become damaged or die. When a DVT becomes dislodged and blocks a vein in the lungs, this is called a pulmonary embolism, which is very dangerous.
DVT symptoms and signs to look for
Not everyone will experience DVT symptoms, but here are some key warning signs to look out for:
- Unusual and sudden swelling in the arm or leg, usually on one side
- Cramping pain, soreness or tenderness
- A feeling of warmth in the affected area
- Skin changing to a pale, reddish or bluish colour
The symptoms of a pulmonary embolism include chest pain when coughing, sudden shortness of breath, fast heartbeat, sweating and feeling faint or dizzy.
If you experience any of these symptoms, contact your GP immediately. Never wait for symptoms to “go away”.
Who is more at risk of a DVT?
While anyone can develop a DVT, there are some individuals who are at a higher risk. As DVT is sometimes difficult to spot, it’s good to understand how at-risk you are so you can keep an eye on things. DVT risk factors include:
- People over the age of 60 – although a DVT can occur in people of all ages, the risk increases with age
- People with a family history of DVTs – genetic conditions that increase blood clotting, such as thrombophilia, can be passed down through generations
- People who are overweight – the risk of getting a DVT increases the more overweight you are, as there is more pressure on your veins and arteries which can constrict blood flow
- People who are less mobile and spend a large amount of time sedentary
- People who frequently go on long journeys where they are seated e.g. airplanes and trains
- People on bed rest in hospitals or post-injury
- Pregnant women – the growing foetus can cause venous outflow obstruction and alter your hormones, making developing a DVT more likely
- People with cancer – both cancer itself and the treatment can increase the likelihood of developing a DVT
- People who use birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy – these increase the chances of blood clotting
- People with underlying health conditions like heart disease and inflammatory bowel disease (IBS)
“DVT can affect lots of different people, however those over the age of 60 who spend large amounts of time being inactive are far more at risk. This is because blood circulation decreases when we are sedentary for long periods of time. So, try to be as active as possible; incorporate a daily walk, yoga or seated exercises in your routine to boost circulation, improve muscle strength and make you feel more energised. The ideal exercise is a combination of stretching (which activates the muscles and stimulates blood flow) and aerobic exercise (making your heart and lungs work harder) as this assists blood circulation. Avoid wearing tight-fitting clothing and drink plenty of water. It’s also a good idea to elevate your legs at the end of the day to prevent fluid from pooling around your ankles.”
– Occupational Therapist, Julie Jennings, Dip COT HCPC
The most common way to treat a DVT is to use anticoagulants, A.K.A blood thinners. These are used to treat and prevent blood clots. Anticoagulants can be administered via injection such as Lovenox (enoxaparin), or taken orally such as Coumadin (warfarin). It’s likely your doctor will organise regular blood checks to see how you are responding to the treatment.
Other deep vein thrombosis treatments include intravenous thrombolytics and a minor surgical procedure where a filter is put into a large vein in your abdomen, called the inferior vena cava.
How to prevent DVT
Sadly, there is no single way to prevent DVT, however there are a number of lifestyle factors that can help to put you less at risk and improve your overall health and wellbeing.
“To put you at a lower risk of developing a DVT, try to stay at a healthy weight and incorporate exercise into your day-to-day routine. You may want to speak to your GP about creating a tailored diet and exercise plan for yourself. Smoking also has a variety of health risks, including restricting blood flow and increasing the risk of clots. It’s never too late to quit and there is so much useful advice available on the internet to help you.”
– Occupational Therapist, Julie Jennings, Dip COT HCP
Maintain a healthy weight
Overweight individuals place more strain on the veins throughout their body, which makes developing a DVT more likely. Being overweight can also alter the chemical makeup of blood, increase inflammation and put you at risk for diabetes – all of which make your blood more prone to clotting. Ensure that you maintain a healthy weight by eating a healthy and balanced diet, and staying active.
Be as active as possible
If you are inactive or spending long amounts of time sitting down, you are at a higher risk of developing a DVT as blood circulation decreases during periods of inactivity. Follow the NHS recommended guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week – that’s just over 20minutes a day.
If you work from home or spend hours sitting down watching films or reading, set a timer to get up and move around every hour or so. Equally, on long journeys, remember to get up and walk around regularly to boost blood flow around your body. You could also try our chair exercises for seniors to improve mobility and strengthen muscles while sitting down.
Take medication and wear compression socks
After surgery or an accident, take any medications as prescribed by your doctor and wear compression socks to reduce the risk of developing a DVT. Compression socks are designed to fit tightly around your lower legs to reduce swelling and stop blood from pooling.
Drink plenty of fluids
Dehydration is a risk factor for developing a DVT as it makes our blood thicker and more difficult to circulate around the body. Remember that approximately 60% of our bodies are made up of water, so make sure that you are drinking the recommended amount of water a day – six to eight cups or glasses.
Reduce alcohol consumption and quit smoking
It’s important to stick to the recommended guidelines when drinking alcohol. The NHS advises that men and women drink no more than 14 units per week. If you’re trying to cut down, why not have a couple of alcohol-free days a week? You could try an alcohol-free alternative like Becks Blue – they’re fewer calories and are much better for you.
We would also advise that you quit smoking as it has a number of health risks, including developing a DVT. Smoking increases the likelihood of blood clots as it changes the surface of blood platelets, making it easier for them to clump together. Although it’s a difficult habit to kick, there are lots of ways to stop, including joining a group, seeking medical advice, buying nicotine patches and more.
Ensure correct posture and blood flow when seated
Sitting with poor posture can increase your risk of getting a DVT as it negatively affects blood circulation. Equally, those recovering from DVT may want to raise the affected area to prevent blood from pooling there. Both of these things can be done with a comfortable and supportive chair like a riser recliner, where you can adjust the angle and height of the chair as you wish.
All of our chairs undergo a 7-Point Seating Assessment™ created by Occupational Therapist, Julie Jennings Dip COT HCPC. So, you can be sure that your body is fully supported and maintains proper posture when you are seated.
We hope our guide to deep vein thrombosis has helped to inform you more about this condition, including key DVT symptoms to look out for and how you can make positive lifestyle changes to reduce your risk of getting one.