Deep vein thrombosis: all you need to know

Deep vein thrombosis can affect anyone who sits still for long periods of time – at work, at home or while travelling.

Here, to mark National Thrombosis Week, we explore some common myths about blood clots and look at what you can do to prevent it. 

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) affects tens of thousands of people each year in the United Kingdom, but despite the prevalence of this condition, the public is largely unaware of the causes – and how they can act to prevent it.

So first, what is it?

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot that develops within a deep vein in the body, usually in the leg.
In most cases it can be treated. If it is not it can lead to a pulmonary embolism (PE) which happens when the DVT breaks off and moves into the lungs depriving the body of the oxygen and blood supply that it needs and causing permanent tissue damage.

So, who does it affect?

DVT can affect anyone, of any age, at any time.

In fact, there are many celebrities who have suffered from DVT or PE-related events including tennis ace Serena Williams, cricket player Andrew Flintoff, comedian Billy Connolly and former Mayor of London and foreign secretary, Boris Johnson.

Busting myths 

The pervading myth is that most blood clots form in people who take long haul flights.

But this isn’t strictly true.

Flying itself does not increase your chance of getting DVT. It is the fact that flying means you are sedentary for a long period of time which is the problem here.

Any prolonged inactivity – when a person is sedentary for 90 minutes or longer – can reduce blood flow through the veins.

For some, this can include activities such as on-line gaming, time spent on social media and binge-watching TV.

In 2016, Chris Staniforth, 20, died after spending up to 12 hours at a time playing on his Xbox for example.

And last year, a study found that computer gamers as young as 12 have suffered potentially-deadly deep vein thrombosis after becoming so absorbed in their games they hardly moved for more than three hours. The research identified a 12-year-old who had played for four hours with his legs in a kneeling position when he suffered a blood clot.

There are other risk factors to bear in mind.

Changes in the clotting mechanism of the blood can also be caused by pregnancy, some drug treatments and genetic disposition.

In addition to this, clotting can be more likely after surgical procedures, trauma or inflammation.

What are the symptoms?

Sadly, there may be few or no symptoms of DVT and 80% of cases are ‘silent’.

But we recently launched the #SeekHELP campaign to warn anyone who experiences Heat, Excessive redness, Localised swelling or Pain in their leg or arm to get urgent medical attention.

Symptoms of a PE include symptoms of a DVT along with the following:

  • Sudden shortness of breath
  • Chest pain-sharp, stabbing; may get worse with deep breath
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Unexplained cough, sometimes with bloody mucus

What can I do?

You can reduce your chances of developing a blood clot by keeping your weight at a healthy level, staying active and exercising regularly.

You should drink plenty of water, wear loose fitting clothes and move around at regular intervals throughout the day.

A product called the RBR legflow™ is also in production and has been scientifically proven to help improve the blood flow from the lower limbs of individuals when seated.

It is hoped this product will be adopted by workplaces, hospital wards and airlines in future to help people carry out simple foot exercises which will drastically reduce their risk of DVT.