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Sunday, March 18, 2012

DVT: Are you at risk?

Deep vein thrombosis, aka DVT, sounds as ominous as it is dangerous.  Women are at particular risk because of hormone factors, but it is really a risk for anyone who is overweight, diabetic, smokes, has had recent major surgery or is otherwise leading an immobile lifestyle.  There are actually many additional risks including family history of clotting disorders, chronic diseases of all types, and cancer.


The problem is a huge one that mostly affects the veins in the deep part of the lower legs.  A clot forming in that venous system initially causes pain and swelling because of the blockage of back flow of blood.  Later, all or part of that original clot can break free and travel to the lungs where it becomes a pulmonary embolus, a potentially deadly phenomenon. 


Birth control pills, patches and rings as well as hormone replacement therapies containing estrogen add to other risk factors in women to make DVT probability rise, and some risk factors, such as smoking and inactivity, are in our control.  I recently interviewed a woman who, at age 48, was placed on continuous oral contraceptive pills to help her heavy menstrual bleeding.  She didn't admit to the prescribing physician that she was continuing to smoke cigarettes because she knew the doctor would refuse to prescribe the pills for her....for a good reason. The doctor didn't want to be responsible for a major complication.  I had no idea that someone would purposefully put their own life at risk!


Needless to say, I educated her on the incredible risk of combining cigarettes with oral contraceptive pills in someone her age.  Women under the age of 35 are not at as great a risk for DVT if they smoke while using birth control pills, but I always recommend smoking cessation.  You can assess your risk for DVT at www.preventdvt.org.