March is Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) 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, yet 74 percent have little or no awareness of DVT.
DVT occurs when a blood clot (thrombus) forms in one or more of the deep veins in your body, usually in your legs. Pulmonary embolism occurs when a blood clot gets wedged into an artery in your lungs. These blood clots most commonly come from the deep veins located in your legs.
A recent study by the journal JAMA found that among adults with varicose veins, there is a significantly increased risk of developing DVT. For this reason – and the lack of general awareness of DVT – researchers say that learning about potential relationships between “varicose veins and health-threatening diseases is important.”
The study compared 212,984 patients with varicose veins and 212,984 patients without varicose veins. For adults diagnosed with varicose veins, results indicated:
- They have a “significantly increased risk of incident DVT.”
- There is an “increased risk of deep vein thrombosis in both women and men.”
- The “association is stronger in men than in women.”
Rimas Gilvydis, a board-certified interventional radiologist with Northern Illinois Vein Clinic, says the results of this study are significant and underscore why people should get their veins checked by a vein specialist. Most people associate leg pain, cramping, swelling, and discomfort to something else like age or an old injury. “At the end of the day, it’s not normal for your legs to hurt,” he says.
Dr. Gilvydis recommends being aware of the following factors that could put you at greater risk:
- Genetics: A family history of varicose veins increases your risk of developing DVT.
- Bed rest or prolonged sitting: Inactivity can disrupt your healthy blood flow and lead to clotting.
- Pregnancy: Increased pressure in the pelvis and legs can potentially lead to blog clots.
- Weight problems: Overweight individuals experience more strain on their veins.
- Smoking: This habit negatively affects circulation and increases your risk of developing blood clots and DVT.
“The best way to avoid DVT is to exercise, eat healthy, avoid smoking, know your family history and be aware of the common symptoms,” he says.
Some of the most common symptoms include pain, warmth, swelling or discomfort in the leg. If you have any of the risk factors listed above and are showing any of these symptoms, you should be evaluated by a vein specialist.