How to Avoid and Prevent DVT (Blood Clots) in Your Legs
We know about the dangers of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), also known as blood clots. Blood clots are not something to take lightly. Though they aren’t always life-threatening, they can be and you do not want to put yourself at risk of developing them.
Before we talk about what blood clots are, warning signs and risk factors for developing blood clots, let us show you 5 effective tips on how to avoid (and prevent) blood clots in your legs.
How to avoid blood clots in your legs
1. Make time to move
At the end of a long day, few activities are as relaxing as laying down on the couch and binge watching your favorite show. Many of us spend 8+ hours a day at a desk, in front of a computer. So how do we make time to move? Here are a few tips:
- Park farther away at work and walk in
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator
- Take a lunchtime walk
- Take a walk after dinner – recruit family, friends, and neighbors (walking club anyone?)
- Point and flex your feet while sitting at work or at home
- Try a wall sit at home, while watching TV or prior to going to bed
- Sit with your right hip against the wall and lay down, rotating your legs upward against the wall. Staying in this position for 10-15 minutes a day does wonders for your circulation and varicose vein disease symptoms!
2. Stay hydrated, especially while traveling or away from home
Staying hydrated is one of the best ways to help your overall health. Although criteria is different for everyone based on activity level, medication, body composition, etc. as a general rule, you should aim to consume half of your body weight in ounces each day. At first, this volume of water will have you running to the bathroom (although you will be getting your steps in!) until your body becomes more accustomed to taking in that amount of fluid. Although water is best, hydration can come in the form of iced tea, fruit, vegetables, and fresh juices. Try to avoid excessive caffeine, alcohol, and sugar-filled drinks as these lead to further dehydration.
3. Maintain a healthy weight
Additional weight places additional pressure and strain on your venous system, which can lead to blood clots. This category follows up with the first two well in that staying active and well hydrated helps with overall health and maintaining a healthy weight. In addition, eating a healthy and balanced diet is important for optimal weight and assists with reaching and maintaining a healthy weight. Other means which help in maintaining a healthy BMI include getting at least 30 minutes of vigorous activity daily, drinking lots of water (as mentioned above), getting adequate sleep and minimizing stress.
The Sleep Foundation recommends that adults aged 26-64 years of age get between 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. Poor sleep is associated with increased oxidative stress, glucose intolerance, and insulin resistance. Additional time spent being awake may also increase the opportunity to take in additional calories all of which can lead to weight gain. It is no wonder health-promotion plans stress the importance of prioritizing sleep over working out.
The Mayo Clinic explains the phenomenon of stress-induced weight gain. When under stress you are more apt to eat what you consider to be comfort food, which often includes high-calorie foods – even when you’re not hungry. Cortisol levels also increase while under stress; increased cortisol levels tend to cause cravings for sweet, fatty, and salty foods. Often, individuals working towards weight loss see significant improvements towards their goals when they add stress reduction techniques such as mindfulness, yoga, and meditation. Understanding, and therefore managing, your sources of stress is also important.
4. Raise your feet, especially when sleeping
Keeping your feet elevated in the evenings while relaxing and while sleeping can help promote healthy circulation which may decrease the risk of deep vein thrombosis – especially if one you suffer from varicose vein disease. It doesn’t take much, raising your feet by a few inches by placing a pillow under your legs will help.
Pro tip: Aim to keep your legs at a level higher than your hips.
5. Be aware of the blood clot warning signs and possible risk factors
Common warning signs of a blood clot to look out for:
- If you have been experiencing leg swelling, pain, or redness – reach out to a vein specialist. These long-term symptoms can be signs of varicose vein disease. However, if these symptoms are acute (sudden), and especially if they include chest pain or shortness of breath, seek emergent medical attention as you could be experiencing a pulmonary embolism from a blood clot, or deep vein thrombosis.
Common risks of a blood clot to look out for:
- In addition to the signs listed above, be aware of your symptoms following long car or plane rides, during pregnancy, or following accidents or medical procedures.
- In addition, know your family history – do your grandmother and grandfather have varicose vein disease? Does your mother have a history of unprovoked blood clot or clotting disorder? Although there is nothing you can do regarding these risks, knowing your family history can help you understand your risk and should you develop symptoms, you can seek care early.
Now that we’ve covered helpful tips for preventing blood clots in your legs, let’s talk about what blood clots are, causes of blood clots, and how to recognize what a blood clot may feel like (more warning signs).
What is a deep vein thrombosis, or DVT?
Vein walls are very smooth, allowing the red blood cells to easily pass through the veins on their way back toward the heart. A blood clot typically occurs when the individual red blood cells in the blood begin to stick to the vein wall and onto each other.
This collection of cells disrupts venous blood flow out of the limbs, causing an array of symptoms such as pain and swelling in the associated limb. On a more serious note, deep vein thrombosis can be life threatening when a portion breaks off, causing an embolus or free-floating thrombus within the vein, which can become lodged in the smaller vessels, such as the vessels in the lungs. This phenomenon is called a pulmonary embolism, which may cause shortness of breath, chest pain, and can be fatal. The CDC estimates between 60,000 and 100,000 Americans die from deep vein thrombosis every year.
Recognize the signs of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism
It is important to recognize the signs of a blood clot so you can seek medical attention if needed. So, what does a blood clot feel like?
How to recognize deep vein thrombosis (or DVT):
- Persistent calf, leg swelling
- Persistent pain or tenderness in the thigh or calf, especially with exercise
- Increased temperature and redness in leg
- One leg is visibly larger than the other
- Calf discomfort with flexion of the foot
How to recognize a pulmonary embolism (typically caused by blood clots):
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Spitting up blood
- Unprovoked cough
If you are experiencing these blood clot symptoms, especially those related to pulmonary embolism, err on the side of caution, and seek immediate medical attention.
Causes of DVT, or blood clots
In order to prevent deep vein thrombosis, we need to explore common risk factors of blood clots. So, what causes a blood clot to occur? A blood clot typically occurs when there is a combination of factors affecting venous flow in an area. The more risk factors one has, the higher the risk for a blood clot. DVT risk factors include:
1. Hypercoagulability due to:
- Medications: oral contraceptives/birth control pills, hormone therapies, estrogen
- Illness: inflammatory bowel disease, nephrotic syndrome, and sepsis
- Predisposition to developing blood clots: hereditary factors, thrombophilia, etc.
2. Venous Stasis, or slow blood flow from:
- Vein disease: varicose vein disease, history of DVT or pulmonary embolism, venous obstruction
- Cardiovascular disease: congestive heart failure, atrial fibrillation, stroke
- Immobility: paralysis, extended sitting or standing, long flights or travel, bedrest after surgery
3. Damage to the vein wall:
- Trauma or injury
- Fracture of the pelvis, hip, or long bones
- Central lines, pacemakers, or indwelling catheters
- Vein wall injury due to frequent injections, such as intravenous drug use
Several of the blood clot risk factors listed above are out of your control – injury and genetics cannot be helped. However, there are steps you can take to decrease other risk factors and help prevent deep vein thrombosis, or blood clots, from occurring in your body.
Knowing the signs, symptoms, and risk factors for deep vein thrombosis helps you remain vigilant and seek care as needed. Staying active, drinking plenty of water, and maintaining a healthy weight are just a few ways to help prevent blood clots in your legs. If you have long standing symptoms such as swelling, aching, and pain in the legs, reach out to a vein specialist – the most likely cause is varicose vein disease, which in itself is a risk factor for developing thrombosis.