It often starts with pain or tenderness in the leg or foot. Or maybe a cramp that starts in the calf and then spreads. Don’t just assume you’ve got a “charlie horse” cramp. When I visited my elderly mother last year, she had those symptoms but blew them off as she explained that she had just finished a long car trip a couple of days ago. When I lifted up her pant legs to take a look, I was concerned. I was worried that she had deep-vein thrombosis (DVT). That’s because one leg was nearly double the size of the other. Plus it was looking a little bit bluish. And, after a few tests, the emergency room diagnosed her with DVT and promptly admitted her to the hospital to begin blood thinners. But DVT is not just for the elderly!
What is Deep-Vein Thrombosis or DVT?
Deep-vein thrombosis is a dangerous, life-threatening condition which starts when a blood clot forms in a deep vein within the body and blocks precious blood flow. These clots are likely to break off and travel upwards, blocking blood flow to an artery in the lungs causing a fatal medical condition called pulmonary embolism. If it heads towards the brain it can lead to a stroke. Or towards the heart it can result in a heart attack. Like I said – all life-threatening. So, it’s important not to just blow off leg cramps. The longer that you wait to get diagnosed, the better your outcome.
What Causes Deep-Vein Thrombosis?
Risk factors for DVT include smoking, certain hereditary blood disorders, and a sedentary lifestyle. And, it’s not just older people that are prone to DVT. I’ve heard plenty of stories of young business travelers who develop these. So, get up during flights to stretch your legs. When you’re driving long distances, stop the car every couple of hours to get out and move – even if it’s just to the bathroom.
What to Do?
Seek medical attention immediately if you notice that the cramp and pain is getting worse. Or if one foot or leg is swollen. Diagnosis is simple using tests such as an ultrasound or a D-dimer blood test. If you do have a DVT, the treatment includes blood thinners to dissolve the clot and the use of compression socks or stockings.