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Deep vein thrombosis – avoiding a dangerous clot

March 12 2018

This month is Deep Venous Thrombosis Month. Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is when a clot forms in the deep veins of the body, usually in the leg. The NHS estimates that around 25,000 people a year who are admitted to hospital die of avoidable DVT – but measures can be taken to reduce the risk. 
 
If you are coming to hospital for surgery you will be assessed for your risk of DVT and given appropriate advice and treatment – this complies with the guidance from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) which has been in place since 2010.
 
If you have a DVT you may be prescribed anticoagulant medication such as heparin or warfarin. Medication may also be given if you have had a DVT in the past. If you are at risk of DVT you may be advised to wear compression stockings, both before and after surgery depending on your consultant’s instructions.
 
Sometimes it is hard to tell if you have DVT, because it can develop with very few noticeable symptoms. However, things to look out for include:
 
Pain, swelling or tenderness in one of your legs, often in or around the calf muscle
Feeling a heavy ache in the affected area
Skin that is warm to the touch in the affected area
Red skin
Increased pain when you raise your foot towards your knee
If you have shortness of breath or chest pain the thrombosis (clot) may have developed in the lungs which is a pulmonary embolism. This is potentially dangerous and needs immediate medical treatment.
 
If you experience any of these symptoms you should seek medical advice immediately.
 
There are steps you can take to reduce the risk of developing a DVT, and these include:
 
Stopping taking the contraceptive pill if you are coming to hospital for surgery particularly for surgery in the lower half of the body
Quitting smoking
Losing weight, and maintaining a healthy weight
Eating a healthy, balanced diet
Taking regular exercise
There is no evidence that taking aspirin reduces the risk of DVT
 
Staying in the same position without moving for a period of time can increase the risk of DVT, so if you are planning a long journey, are at risk of DVT or have had a thrombosis in the past before, you should speak to your GP before you travel.
 
Top tips for preventing DVT on a long journey (of six hours or more) are:
 
Drink plenty of water
Do simple leg exercises
Take regular, short walking breaks 
 
Checking for the risks of DVT is part of your pre-operative assessment when you come to us for an operation, and we will provide you with advice, medication and equipment for DVT prevention where it is needed. We will also do the same to ensure that any preventative treatment continues after you are discharged from hospital having had your procedure.