Did you know that Americans spend an average of 11 hours a day sitting? Whether it’s your office job that’s to blame or you have a particularly long commute, the sedentary lifestyle that many of us have come to lead isn’t doing our health any favors. There have been numerous studies published on the dangers of prolonged sitting; the latest one points to a direct relationship between times spent sitting and the risk of an early death.
In addition to the increased mortality risk, there is another sneaky condition that may arise if you spend an extended amount of time on your tush Deep vein thrombosis.
What is Deep-vein Thrombosis?
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a condition where a blood clot forms in the deep vein of a person’s body, often in the leg. These clots block blood flow to the rest of the body and can be especially dangerous since they pose a risk of breaking off and traveling to major organs. For example, if a piece of the deep vein clot breaks off and travels to the lungs, it can disrupt blood flow to an artery and cause a potentially fatal pulmonary embolism.
What can cause DVT?
DVT can strike anyone at any time no matter a person’s age or gender. But, there are both genetic factors and certain lifestyle habits that could increase a person’s risk of suffering from a deep vein clot. These include:
Limited physical activity and long periods of sitting that occur on a daily basis can cause our body’s blood flow to become slow and sluggish. When blood can’t properly circulate, it can increase the chance of a blood clot forming.
Injury or Surgery
If you’ve suffered a trauma like a bone fracture that has also damaged a vein, the injury could lead to DVT. Those who have had lower extremity surgery may also be at an increased risk.
Smoking raises your blood pressure while also harming the linings of your blood vessels, creating the perfect storm of factors for clots to form.
Hormonal Birth control
The hormones present in certain contraceptives increase the clotting factors present in the blood, and thereby increase a woman’s chance of developing blood clots by 3-4 times.
What are the symptoms of DVT?
Symptoms of DVT can often feel like other less serious health conditions such as a torn muscle or “Charlie horse.” Consult your doctor if you experience any of the following:
- Pain or tenderness in the leg or foot that may make standing or walking difficult
- Warmth along the affected leg
- Red or discolored skin
- Swelling in the leg, ankle, or along a vein
- Cramping in the calf that spreads
What are the symptoms of a pulmonary embolism?
If a deep-vein blood clot goes undiagnosed and breaks off, it may travel to the lungs and block blood flow to the major organ. This is known as a pulmonary embolism and can be potentially fatal. Don’t hesitate to seek medical attention if you experience:
- Fast or irregular heart rate
- Sharp pain in the chest when taking deep breaths
- Dizziness or severe lightheadedness
- Shortness of breath
What treatment options are available for DVT?
If you’ve suffered a deep vein blood clot, there are certain treatment options available to you to help dissolve the clots and get you back to living a full and healthy life.
Blood thinners, or anticoagulants, are the most commonly prescribed form of treatment for DVT. This type of medication thins the blood to prevent existing clots from increasing in size and to stop new clots from forming. Despite their effectiveness, anticoagulants come with a severe risk of internal bleeding so it’s important to discuss with your doctor which option is best for your current lifestyle. Two common options include:
- Coumadin (warfarin): Coumadin has been available to patients since 1954 and although it has been historically effective, it requires both dietary changes and weekly blood draws to ensure the correct dose is being given. Vitamin K is a natural antidote for the drug, so patients need to limit their intake of foods rich in the vitamin, such as spinach and kale.
- Xarelto (rivaroxaban): This newer anticoagulant has been on the market since 2011 but does not have an antidote to reverse its blood-thinning effects. This lack of a reversal agent has contributed to thousands of internal bleeding complications, and the Xarelto’s manufacturer now faces a wave of lawsuits. However, the anticoagulant can be an effective and convenient option for patients who do not want to worry about Coumadin’s additional requirements.
In addition to blood thinners, patients may be recommended to wear compression stockings while they recover from DVT. These stockings go over the calves to encourage blood flow up through the legs, reduce pain, and prohibit any potential pooling of the blood that could arise.
Vena Cava Filter
If you have an existing health condition that prohibits you taking blood thinners, a vena cava filter may be put in the abdomen to serve as a way to catch blood clots or clot pieces before they can head to the lungs. This device does not prevent new clots from forming, however.
How can I prevent DVT?
DVT got its nickname of the ‘Sitting Disease’ because a sedentary lifestyle is a main risk factor for the condition. The good news is that regular physical activity throughout the day and other habit changes are easy ways to greatly lower your risk. Consider incorporating the following habits into your everyday life:
If you work an office job or find yourself in situations where you sit for extended periods of time, make it a point to get up once every 1-2 hours to encourage blood flow throughout the body.
Leg stretches & exercises
If you can’t get up every hour to walk around, try doing seated leg exercises to promote proper blood flow.
- Ankle circles – Lift one leg up and rotate the ankle 10-15 times. Repeat in the other direction and for the other leg.
- Knee raises – Pull one knee to your chest and hold for 10-15 seconds. Repeat with the other knee.
Let your risk of DVT be the extra reason you need to ditch the unhealthy habit. Not only will you lower your odds of suffering from a blood clot, but you can also decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.
Wear compression stockings
If you are regularly sitting for extended periods of time, consider wearing compression stockings to promote better blood flow and keep your veins healthy. Whether you sit at a desk all day or travel often via long flights or car rides, compression stockings can lower your risk and relieve pain and swelling if you have suffered a DVT.
Deep-vein thrombosis is a condition that affects all walks of life, but simple changes to your daily life can greatly lower your risk of suffering a blood clot. Be sure to pay attention to your body, and head to the doctor’s office if you experience any symptoms.