March is national Deep-Vein Thrombosis Awareness Month, a public health initiative aimed at raising awareness of this commonly occurring medical condition and its potentially fatal complication, pulmonary embolism. According to the American Heart Association, up to 2 million Americans are affected annually by DVT, more commonly known as blood clots. Yet, most Americans (74 percent) have little or no awareness of DVT, according to a national survey sponsored by the American Public Health Association.
Leading medical, public health and patient advocacy groups are sponsoring the observance and are working to increase awareness of the signs, symptoms and risk factors of DVT. All health professionals can help by learning more about the condition and the options available for treatment and prevention.
There are two types of veins: deep and superficial. Deep veins are large and surrounded by muscle in the center of a limb. DVT occurs when a thrombus (blood clot) forms in the deep vein, most often in the leg, resulting in partially or completely blocked circulation.
Symptoms of DVT can include swelling, pain, discoloration and abnormally hot skin at the affected area. Unfortunately, nearly half of DVT episodes have minimal, if any, symptoms. These “silent” afflictions are particularly worrisome. Adding to the complication, some conditions such as muscle strain, skin inflection, phlebitis – inflammation of veins – have similar symptoms, making DVT harder to diagnose. The most accurate ways to diagnose DVT are through venous ultrasound, venography and Impedance plethysmography – detection via electrodes and blood pressure cuff placed on the patient’s calf and thigh.
While DVT below the knee is unlikely to cause serious complications, clots above the knee can break off and travel up the bloodstream, resulting in a blocked blood vessel in the lung (pulmonary embolism). Other consequences are damaged blood vessels leading to blood pooling, swelling and pain in the leg, and in the most severe cases with large clots, death.
Certain individuals are more at risk for deep-vein thrombosis than others. Those with prior DVT, obesity, stroke, pregnancy, undergoing major surgery, over the age of 65 and those who are confined to long periods of immobility via travel or bed rest are more likely to be afflicted. According to the American Medical Association, approximately 2 million people suffer from DVT each year, more than the annual amount affected by heart attack or stroke.