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Brett M. McCullough, M.D., a hospitalist with Clarian Health’s Methodist Hospital, discusses deep-vein thrombosis in recognition of March being Deep-Vein Thrombosis Awareness Month.

What is deep-vein thrombosis?

What are the symptoms? What are the risk factors?

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot (thrombus) in a deep vein, usually located in the legs. This condition requires immediate medical care. Symptoms of DVT include swelling, pain, warmth and redness usually isolated in the affected limb.

Many factors can increase a person’s risk for DVT, and some of these we can control. These include smoking, obesity and long plane flights or car trips. Other risk factors include recent surgery, cancer, bed rest, heart failure, age greater than 40, varicose veins, familial clotting disorders, birth control pills (estrogen) and more.

What is pulmonary embolism? What are the symptoms? What are the risk factors?

These clots are dangerous because they can break loose, travel through the bloodstream to the lungs and block blood flow in the lung or pulmonary embolism. A pulmonary embolism (PE) is often life-threatening. Symptoms often include the sudden onset of chest pain and shortness of breath.

The risk factors for PE are the same as the risk factors for DVT listed above.

How are DVT and PE related?

PE occurs when a piece of the clot (DVT) breaks off and travels to the lungs.

How can these conditions be treated? Does Methodist Hospital offer any special treatment for these conditions?

When you are diagnosed with deep vein thrombosis, treatment begins immediately to reduce the risk that the blood clot will grow or that a piece of the clot might break loose and flow to the lungs (PE). Most people are treated with blood thinners that will be continued for a minimum of three months. People who cannot tolerate blood thinners may need specialized procedures. People who have very large clots in the large veins of the thigh and pelvis may need a procedure to help stabilize or remove some of the clot. The treatment of these conditions are managed by experts, and all of these therapies are offered at Methodist Hospital.

Is there anything people can do to prevent the occurrence of pulmonary embolisms?

The most important thing people can do to prevent DVT or PE is to reduce their risk factors. In particular, quit smoking and prevent obesity. I would also encourage those on a long flight or car ride to take a walk once every two hours to get their blood flowing. In addition, it is extremely important that people seek treatment from a doctor if they develop symptoms, in one limb, consistent with a DVT. Finally, it is important to discuss preventive doses of blood thinners with your doctors when you are in the hospital or planning a surgery.

For more information, visit www.clarian.org.

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