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Deep Vein Thrombosis Awareness Month: sharing vital information on this life-threatening yet treatable condition

Posted: 01/03/2024

March is Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) Awareness Month. DVT is the term for a blood clot that forms in a vein deep inside the body. This is often in the leg, but can occur in the deep veins in the arm, stomach, or pelvis.

The aim of the awareness campaign is to reduce the prevalence of this condition, by educating people on how to prevent DVT. It also provides information about symptoms and treatment so that patients can access appropriate care promptly. DVT is often preventable and treatable, but can have extremely serious consequences, so it is important to know the symptoms, and access appropriate treatment if it is suspected.

The main warning signs of DVT are pain, heat and swelling, discoloured skin, and swollen veins. This is often in the thigh or calf in the leg (usually only one leg) but could occur elsewhere depending on where the clot has formed. If you experience these symptoms, it is important to seek medical attention straight away, as the clot can travel to other parts of the body and cause very serious illness or even death. 

If these symptoms are accompanied by chest pain or breathlessness, this could mean that the clot has travelled to the lungs (a blood clot in the lungs is also known as a pulmonary embolism). This is very dangerous so medical attention needs to be sought immediately. 

Many people associate DVT with air travel, and while this does increase the risk, it is important to know that it can occur anywhere. Any situation where mobility is reduced can increase the chances of it occurring, for example, during a hospital stay, on long journeys, or for people unwell in bed for a long time. 

DVT can happen to anyone, but older people, smokers, and people who are overweight are more at risk. There are also increased risks for people with certain conditions, such as previous DVT or other blood clots, or a family history of these; cancer, lung, or heart problems; thrombolysis; dehydration; or varicose veins. The risk of DVT increases for pregnant people, those who have had a baby in the last few weeks, and people on medication such as the contraceptive pill or hormone replacement therapy (HRT). 

The chances of suffering from DVT can be reduced with various lifestyle factors, such as avoiding smoking or drinking too much alcohol, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, not sitting still for long periods, drinking plenty of fluids, and trying not to cross your legs when seated. On long journeys in particular, keeping moving and not getting dehydrated can reduce the chances of suffering DVT.

In a hospital setting, patients should be risk assessed for DVT and may be provided with compression stockings or anticoagulant medication as a preventative measure. Anticoagulants are common after surgery. Patients should also receive advice about how long to continue with this treatment after they are discharged. 

DVT is treatable if discovered early, so it is important to seek medical advice promptly if it is suspected. It can be diagnosed with blood tests, an ultrasound scan of the area, and/or an X-ray of the vein itself, to see if a clot has formed. The usual treatment for DVT is blood thinning medicine, usually given via regular injections, and/or surgery to remove the clot(s). Most people who suffer DVT make a good recovery.

Victoria Johnson, associate in the clinical negligence team, comments: “As with so many conditions, timely diagnosis and treatment of DVT is very important. DVT is not usually life- threatening itself, but the clot can break away and move to other parts of the body, such as the lungs, which is extremely dangerous and can cause death. Failure to promptly diagnose and correctly treat it, therefore, can have very serious consequences.

“In other cases, DVT, or blood clots in other parts of the body, may have been avoidable altogether. For example, if the correct dosage of anticoagulant medication is not provided when it should have been, such as after surgery, a clot may occur that would otherwise not have done. Sadly, this can cause disability or even death, depending on the severity and location of the clot.”

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