Stay-at-home orders during this pandemic have led to many long hours sitting in front of a computer at an unfamiliar desk or your kitchen table as you work from home or homeschool your kids. Then, you retreat to the couch to hide from the news only to binge-watch an entire Netflix series without getting up from your seat. A sedentary lifestyle isn’t healthy, and it could put you at increased risk for developing a blood clot such as a deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
What is a DVT?
A blood clot is a clump of blood that has changed from a liquid to a gel-like or semisolid state. Clotting is a necessary process that can prevent you from losing too much blood in certain instances, such as when you’re injured or cut. When a clot forms inside one of your veins, it won’t always dissolve on its own. This can be a very dangerous and even life-threatening situation.
A blood clot in a large vein, usually in your leg, is called a deep vein thrombosis. A DVT can partly or completely block the flow of blood through the vein (causing swelling of the area below) and can move or break off and travel to the lungs. When the clot moves to the lungs it’s known as a pulmonary embolism and can cause death. A pulmonary embolism requires immediate medical attention.
When you sit for a long period, the blood flow to your legs slows down, and when your legs are still and hanging down, blood tends to pool in the muscular beds of the calf. These factors can make it easier for a clot to form and increase your risk for DVT.
Symptoms of a Blood Clot
Many people that form a DVT never notice any symptoms. Symptoms include:
- Swelling of your leg or arm
- Pain or tenderness not caused by an injury
- Skin that is warm to the touch, with swelling or pain
- Redness of the skin, with swelling or pain
As mentioned, individuals with a DVT are at an increased risk for a pulmonary embolism. If you have difficulty breathing, chest pain that worsens with a deep breath, cough blood, or a faster than normal or irregular heartbeat, seek immediate attention.
Preventing Blood Clots
The good news is that blood clots can be prevented and treated if you understand your risk factors and get treatment quickly. Risk factors include:
- Advanced age
- Birth control methods that contain estrogen or hormone therapy
- Cancer and cancer treatments
- Chronic diseases such as heart and lung conditions, or diabetes
- Family history of blood clots
- Hospitalization for illness or surgery
- Severe trauma, such as a car accident
- Sitting too long, especially with legs crossed or confined to bed/wheelchair
Your physician will decide what treatment is best for you based on factors such as age, overall health, medical history, the extent of the condition and symptoms. Treatment may include any of the following:
Medications such as blood thinners or clot-dissolving medications
Vena cava filter inserted to catch clots, usually only recommended for patients unable to take medication and blood thinners
Simple lifestyle modifications can help reduce your risk. Some simple tips to keep your blood flowing include:
Take short walk breaks as often as you can. – Try taking a phone call on the go or using a headset so you can move freely around the home.
Try chair exercises. – Simple leg raises, ankle flexing and calf raises are low-impact ways to keep blood circulating.
Make time for play. – When your work is done, include time to get active. Go for bike ride, walk with your family, or even play hide-and-seek with your kids in the yard – it’s all about movement.
You must understand how your lifestyle plays a role in your health. Talk with your doctor about your risk for blood clots and what you can do to prevent them.
Karla Anderson, MD, is a vascular surgeon with UPMC. She sees patients at the Heart & Vascular Institute, 740 High St., Suite 3001, Williamsport. For more information on blood clots and vascular health, visit UPMCSusquehanna.org/Vascular.