By James Gariti
We all ignore symptoms and hope the problem will “just go away” on its own. I am just as guilty as most people. But knowing when you should seek medical attention can mean the difference between an easy recovery and something life-threatening.
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism (PE), blood clots in the legs and lungs, are conditions that are often explained away until they are very serious. Despite Congress’s 2009 establishment of March as National DVT Awareness Month, many people (including many doctors) don’t always recognize the signs and symptoms of blood clots. In fact, less than half of all blood clots (either in the lungs or in the legs) are identified and treated.
A recent string of patients who came to my office with mild to moderate symptoms of DVT and PE led me to look more closely at the disease.
- In October, I saw a woman who had a tender lump in her leg which developed after a flight from Florida. Besides the tender lump, she felt fine…except for the fact that she was getting tired when walking from her car to her house. It turned out she had blood clots in both lungs and required immediate hospitalization.
- Then, in February, I saw a woman who had experienced six episodes of blood clots in her legs over the years who came to see me to finally take care of her veins. She was found to have two clotting disorders (thrombophilias) which increased her risk of DVT and PE significantly.
- In July, a young woman came to my office because she had varicose veins in her legs and had a particularly sore vein. As I talked to her about her exercise habits, she told me that she usually ran five miles each day but that in the past week, she had only been able to run two miles before feeling worn out. Again, she had blood clots in both lungs and required hospitalization.
- And there is the tragic case of David Bloom, the 39-year-old NBC reporter who died of a PE while covering the War in Iraq, and, more recently, tennis superstar Serena Williams who suffered a DVT and a life-threatening PE in 2011.
So what can you do to prevent or treat DVT and PE? First of all, congratulate yourself. Just knowing about the disease is the first step. There are some situations that increase the risk of blood clot formation: prolonged inactivity such as taking a plane ride or a long car ride, the presence of varicose veins, having a recent leg injury, being on hormone therapy (either birth control or hormone replacement therapy), smoking, recent surgery, pregnancy, cancer, or a family history of clotting problems.