DVT, or Deep Vein Thrombosis, occurs when a blood clot forms in a vein deep within the leg. If such a clot breaks free, it could travel to another part of the body, such as the lung or brain, causing death in a matter of hours. Even if the clot does not break free, it can cause blood to pool in the leg below the site of the blockage, damaging the veins in the leg and causing chronic pain, swelling and lasting physical impairment.
Blood clots can form in the deep veins of the leg during long periods of immobility, such as during travel, after surgery or while bedridden with an illness. Your risk of DVT is highest after surgery, especially after surgery on the hips or legs. Because Deep Vein Thrombosis can occur without symptoms and can be hard to spot before it’s too late, doctors focus on preventing it using a combination of strategies that include physical therapy, compression stockings, elevating the legs and blood-thinning medications. If you have surgery or are bedridden for other reasons, your health depends on following your doctor’s instructions to prevent DVT.
Risk Factors for DVT
Any kind of major surgery or illness that leaves you immobile in bed can lead to the development of a blood clot in the legs. Prolonged immobility interferes with the natural movement of blood through the veins and keeps your body’s natural anticoagulants from mixing into the blood as well as they should.
If you have had surgery on your hips or legs, collagen, fats or tissue debris may have been released into your bloodstream during the procedure. This can raise levels of naturally occurring coagulants in your blood, which is why your risk of DVT is highest after hip and leg surgeries.
Other factors that contribute to the development of DVT include damage to the veins themselves, previous history of DVT or pulmonary embolism, diseases that affect the veins, smoking, pregnancy, estrogen use, obesity, heredity or metastatic cancers.
Many people who develop DVT have no symptoms at all. Symptoms of DVT, when they occur, can include swelling of the leg, swelling along the path of a vein in the leg, tenderness or pain in the leg, sometimes only when you stand or walk, warmth in the swollen or painful area, and redness or discoloration of the skin. Seek immediate medical attention if you have any of these symptoms.
If you have surgery, your doctor will take steps to prevent DVT even if you have never suffered from the condition before. Preventative measures can keep as many as 80 percent of orthopedic surgery patients from getting DVT.
Your risk of DVT is highest the first day after surgery. It is also high 10 days later, which is usually when you’ll be sent home. Physical therapy will begin immediately following your surgical procedure. Getting up and moving around following surgery encourages the healthy flow of blood through your leg veins and prevents blood clots.
Your doctor may also give you compression stockings or sleeves to wear on your legs in the days following surgery. These devices squeeze your legs gently to keep blood flowing through your veins in healthy manner. Your health care provider will probably also tell you to keep your legs elevated. This helps promote healthy blood flow, too.
In addition to these measures, your doctor will probably also want you to take a blood-thinning medication for some time after surgery. You may also be asked to do leg exercises in your bed. These include foot and ankle exercises and leg lifts. If moving around causes you pain, your doctor may prescribe painkillers to make it easier.
You could remain at high risk for DVT for several months following your surgical procedure, depending on the nature of your surgery and the extent to which it impacts your ability to move around. Stay alert for any symptoms of swelling, warmth, tenderness or discoloration in your legs during your period of highest risk. Though blood-thinning medications greatly reduce your chances of developing a DVT, they cannot eliminate the possibility. Doctors are still exploring surgical techniques that can reduce the incidence of post-surgical DVT, including expanded use of local anesthetics and the use of anticoagulants during surgery.
If you have surgery — especially if you have surgery on your hips or legs – your risk of developing a DVT increases in the days and months following the procedure. If you know that you are going to have this type of surgery, try to plan ahead and purchase the medication that you need from a Canada pharmacy. This will save you a lot of money. Your doctor will recommend preventative measures, including compression stockings, leg exercises, general movement and blood-thinning medications. Follow your doctor’s instructions for preventing DVT after your surgery, and seek emergency medical care if you do experience any DVT symptoms; it could save your life.
DVT of right leg image by James Heilman MD from Wikimedia Commons