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Blood Clots: Learn About the Risk Factors

April 30, 2013

Washington Hospital Seminar Highlights the Dangers of Deep Vein Thrombosis

We all know physical activity is important for good health, but it can actually save your life. Deep vein thrombosis is a condition that can result from too much sitting, among other causes.

Deep vein thrombosis is a blood clot that forms in a vein deep in the body. It usually occurs in the legs, but can also happen in other parts of the body.

"The blood clot can break off and travel to the lungs," said Dr. Rakesh Safaya, a vascular surgeon and member of the Washington Hospital medical staff. "This condition is called pulmonary embolism and it's very dangerous. About 200,000 people in this country die each year from pulmonary embolism."

He will present "The Dangers of Deep Vein Thrombosis" on Tuesday, May 14, from 1 to 2:30 p.m. The free seminar will be held at the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium, located at 2500 Mowry Avenue (Washington West) in Fremont. Register online at www.whhs.com or call (800) 963-7070 for more information.

Dr. Safaya will explain the causes and risk factors associated with deep vein thrombosis, as well as some of the treatment options available. He will also talk about ways to prevent this condition.

Blood clots are more likely to form if the vein's inner lining has been damaged by physical, chemical, or biologic factors, including surgery, serious injuries, inflammation, cancer treatment, and infections, he explained.

Slow or sluggish blood flow is another risk factor. This can be caused by sitting for long periods of time such as when you are traveling in a car or airplane. Those who are obese or immobilized due to a condition that requires bed rest are also at risk.

In addition, some people have blood that is thicker or more likely to clot than normal. Some inherited conditions can cause this. Pregnancy, hormone therapy, and birth control pills can also increase the risk of clotting, Safaya said.

"Your risk goes up as you age," he added. "People are more likely to have major surgery and other health problems that increase the risk when they are over age 60, and more likely to be sedentary."

Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention

Symptoms of deep vein thrombosis include swelling of the leg or along a vein in the leg, pain or tenderness in the leg, which may only occur when you are standing or walking, increased warmth in the area that is swollen and painful, and red or discolored skin. If the clot breaks off, causing pulmonary embolism, symptoms can include unexplained shortness of breath, pain with deep breathing, and coughing up blood.

"The most common test for diagnosing deep vein thrombosis is an ultrasound," Dr. Safaya said. "We may also do a CT scan or MRI, particularly if we think the clot has moved to the lung."

There are a number of treatment options available depending on your medical history and the size and location of the clot, he explained. Anticoagulants or blood thinners are the most common medicines for treating blood clots. They decrease the blood's ability to clot and stop existing clots from getting bigger.

"The risk with blood thinners is excessive bleeding if the medication thins the blood too much," Dr. Safaya added. "If you are on blood thinners, you need to have your blood checked regularly."

He said some patients can't take blood thinner such as the frail elderly who are at risk of falling. In those cases, Dr. Safaya recommends a vena cava filter that is inserted into the vein.

"The filter prevents the clot from moving into the lung," he said. "It can be done without major surgery and taken out later."

Dr. Safaya said there are ways to prevent deep vein thrombosis. The number one way is to stay active. If you are taking a long trip, walk up and down the aisles of the plane, bus, or train periodically. When on a car trip, stop every hour or so to get out and walk around. When recovering from surgery or other illnesses, be sure to get moving as soon as it is safe to do so.

"It's also important to stay hydrated," he added. "Drink plenty of fluids. If you have any of the risk factors, make sure you get regular checkups and pay attention to any pain or swelling."

For information about other programs and services offered at Washington Hospital that can help you stay healthy, visit www.whhs.com.

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