March 2018 has been designated DVT awareness month: when doctors and health organisations highlight the importance of this serious medical problem to the general public.
So, what is a DVT (Deep vein thrombosis)?
Why is it important and how do you avoid getting one ? In simple terms, a DVT is a blood clot in a deep vein – the word ‘thrombosis’ means ‘clot’. Blood is incredible stuff. Along with its multiple functions which keep us alive, it has the amazing property of remaining liquid when inside our blood vessels, but able to clot immediately when it leaks out of the blood vessel – otherwise we would bleed to death from a minor injury.
How can this happen?
The blood contains a series of clotting factor proteins. These remain liquid – as long as they are not exposed to rough surfaces and the blood is kept moving. A clot occurs when the clotting proteins in the blood undergo chemical changes to make them stick together and form a sticky lump – it looks a bit like red jelly. This jelly plugs any leak in a blood vessel and prevents loss of blood from the circulation.
The inside lining of a normal blood vessel is very smooth – like a glass surface. Blood constantly keeps moving over it and this prevents the clotting mechanism from happening.
However, if the inside of the blood vessel becomes roughened, or the blood flow rate slows down, the clot can form within the blood vessel itself – in other words in the wrong place – and this has serious health consequences.
Such ‘wrong’ clots usually occur in the deep veins of the leg – possibly because there is a small rough area on the inside of the vein due to previous inflammation, possibly because of immobility of the leg after an operation or injury or possibly because the patient is taking a drug that makes the blood more sticky than usual and more likely to clot in the wrong place.
Many people will also know about the risk of getting a DVT after a long haul flight – probably due to immobility of the leg for long periods of time. The clot inside the vein then blocks the vein up and prevents blood flowing through it. The patient becomes aware of the problem when the leg suddenly swells up and becomes painful and tender. It is very important to establish the diagnosis at this early stage, because if corrective treatment is delayed, the clot can spread and extend.
Preventing and treating it
A delayed diagnosis and treatment risks making the problem worse by damaging the vein more. In the worst case scenario, a piece of clot can break off from the leg and travel in the circulation to the lungs. This is called a pulmonary embolism and is a life – threatening problem.
Preventing a DVT is all about reducing your risks. There are lots of ways to do this and I will be writing more about these areas during DVT awareness month and posting them on the blog.