Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) occurs when a blood clot forms in a deep vein. It most commonly occurs in the deep veins of the lower leg and can spread to the deep veins in the thigh. Rarely, it can occur in other deep veins, such as those in the arms. The deep veins pass through the centre of the leg and are surrounded by a layer of muscle. Many blood clots that occur in DVT cases are small and cause no hassles. However, larger blood clots may cause the following symptoms:
• swelling of the affected leg
• pain in the affected leg
• reddening of the affected leg
DVT may not cause any problems but some complications that may result include:
• Pulmonary embolism – the most serious complication of DVT. It occurs when a piece of the blood clot breaks off and travels through the bloodstream to the lungs, where it can block a pulmonary artery, causing chest pain, shortness of breath, or coughing up phlegm tinged with blood. In severe cases, it can be fatal.
• Post-thrombotic syndrome – this occurs if the DVT damages the valves in the deep veins, so that instead of flowing upwards, the blood pools in the lower leg. This can cause long term pain, swelling, and even ulcers on the leg.
• Limb ischemia – a rare complication that only occurs in severe cases of DVT. The blood clot can cause pressure in the vein to become very high, which can obstruct the blood flow through the arteries, so that less oxygen is carried to the affected leg.
The risk of suffering from a DVT is increased if you are over 40, very tall and/or if you are obese. If you are immobile for an extended period (such as after an operation or on a long flight), you also have a greater chance of getting DVT. Other risk factors include having a prior blood clot in a vein, a family history of blood clots in veins, thrombophilia – a condition that makes your blood more likely to clot, certain blood diseases, circulation problems, recent surgery or injury, take a contraceptive pill containing estrogen, take hormone replacement therapy, are pregnant, or if you’ve recently had a baby.
The most common treatments for a DVT are anticoagulant medications such as heparin and warfarin. These alter the chemicals in your blood to stop clots from forming so easily. Compression stockings can be used to relieve pain and swelling, and to prevent post-thrombotic syndrome. You may need to wear them for two years or more after having a DVT.
There are some things that you can do to prevent DVT. If you are traveling, take short walks often and exercise the muscles of your lower legs, which act as a pump for the blood in the veins. These exercises are simple and include regularly bending and straightening your toes, ankles, and legs. Wear loose-fitting clothes, and be sure to drink plenty of water. Don’t drink too much alcohol or caffeine, and don’t take sleeping tablets. If you have risk factors for DVT, wear compression stockings.
A natural remedy that may help with DVT is nattokinase. Nattokinase is an enzyme that is isolated from a Japanese food called natto, which is made from boiled and fermented soybeans. Studies have shown that nattokinase can prevent and dissolve blood clots, and may also help to prevent hardened arteries, heart attack, stroke, angina, and senility. It should be avoided by those on blood thinning medications and those that suffer from bleeding disorders.
Taking one tablespoon of cod liver oil daily along with 400IU of vitamin E can help prevent blood clots. Herbs that may help include horse chestnut – good for patients with circulatory problems associated with varicose veins; butcher’s broom – a key herb for the veins; and gingko – which helps circulation. Garlic is also an effective blood thinner that may reduce clotting. Two substances in lemon juice – citrus juice and lemon polyphenol – may help prevent DVT by improving blood circulation.
Ginger root helps to relax the muscles surrounding the blood vessels, helping the blood flow more freely through the arms and legs. Turmeric can prevent new clots from forming. Finally, regular exercise of just thirty minutes a day can significantly reduce your risk of getting DVT.