What do long trips, surgery, and pregnancy have in common? They all increase risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a serious condition affecting between one and two million Americans each year. Other risk factors for DVT include obesity, smoking, oral contraceptive use, cancer, being sedentary, and injury or illness.
DVT is a blood clot that develops in a deep vein in the body, typically in the pelvis, thigh, or lower leg. It often has no symptoms, though it sometimes causes pain, heat, or swelling at the site of the clot. The most serious complication from DVT is pulmonary embolism (PE). For patients stricken by PE, the DVT clot breaks off from the wall of the deep vein, enters the bloodstream, and travels to the lungs, blocking blood flow and causing severe shortness of breath and chest pain. PE can lead to heart failure and to serious kidney and liver damage. It can be fatal.
“PE accounts for 100,000 to 200,000 deaths per year in the United States alone,” says Dr. Samuel Z. Goldhaber, director of the Thrombosis Research Group at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and founder of the North American Thrombosis Forum (NATF). “The good news is that DVT and PE can be treated, if recognized early, and risks can be minimized to prevent these conditions.”