Thrombosis is a major killer in the UK, a ‘silent’ medical condition with no obvious signs or symptoms which doesn’t discriminate between young and old.
What is thrombosis?
Thrombosis means clotting of the blood in the circulatory system which carries it around the body. We need our blood to clot when we have cuts to stop us from bleeding to death, but occasionally clots form internally when there’s been no injury.
How common is thrombosis?
One in 1,000 people are affected by venous thrombosis (a clot in the vein) in the UK each year and an estimated 25,000 people would die from venous thrombosis contracted in hospital if thrombosis prevention wasn’t given.
The most common form of thrombosis is DVT, which usually occurs in a deep leg vein, a larger vein that runs through the muscles of the calf and the thigh.
What is DVT?
DVT causes the leg to swell and can lead to complications including pulmonary embolism (PE), where a piece of the clot breaks off into the bloodstream and blocks a blood vessel in the lungs. As many as one in 10 people who suffer a pulmonary embolism will die if not treated.
Together, DVT and pulmonary embolism are known as venous thromboembolism (VTE).
Who’s at risk of DVT?
Thrombosis doesn’t just affect the elderly and those who’ve been on long-haul flights. The Office of National Statistics found that between 2005 and 2008, 1,075 aged 40 and under, and 60 teenagers and children died as a result of DVT.
Factors that might increase your risk, according to the NHS, include:
• Previous venous thromboembolism
• A family history of blood clots
• Medical conditions such as cancer and heart failure
• Inactivity – for example, after an operation
• Being overweight or obese.
‘An indiscriminate killer’
Haematologist Professor Beverley Hunt, medical director of Thrombosis UK (formerly Lifeblood), warns that thrombosis can affect both young and old.
“Many people are under the impression that thrombosis is an older person’s illness. Yet we now have the statistical evidence to show this is not the case,” she said.
“We need to break the myth that thrombosis is only an old people’s condition or that you’re only likely to suffer from blood clots on planes.
“Much more needs to be done to make sure that front-line medics properly recognise symptoms of deep vein thrombosis which, if not treated early, is an indiscriminate and devastating killer.”
Signs and symptoms of DVT
According to the NHS, in some cases of DVT, there are no symptoms, but you may notice the following:
• Pain, swelling and tenderness in one of your legs (usually your calf);
• A heavy ache in the affected area;
• Warm skin in the area of the clot;
• Redness of your skin, particularly at the back of your leg below the knee.
If you have a pulmonary embolism, you may experience more serious symptoms, such as:
• Breathlessness, which may come on gradually or suddenly;
• Chest pain, which may become worse when you breathe in;
• Collapsing suddenly.
If you’re worried, visit your GP as soon as possible, or call 999 for an ambulance if the symptoms are particularly bad.
How not to get DVT?
You can reduce your risk of developing DVT by giving up smoking, eating a healthy, balanced diet and getting regular exercise. If you’re overweight, lost weight and take regular screen breaks at work.
• If you’re travelling for more than six hours, the NHS recommends:
• Drinking plenty of water;
• Avoiding excessive alcohol, as it can lead to dehydration;
• Avoiding sleeping pills, as they can cause immobility;
• Performing simple leg exercises, such as regularly flexing your ankles;
• Taking occasional short walks when possible;
• Taking advantage of refuelling stopovers, where it may be possible to get out and walk about;
• Wearing elastic compression stockings.
For more information, visit Thrombosis UK.