Deep vein thrombosis is no stranger to spinal-cord injury. What is it and how can it be prevented?
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) affects about 15% of people with spinal-cord injury (SCI) make it a real and worrisome secondary condition to watch out for. DVT is when a blood clot forms in one of the deep veins of the body, most commonly the legs. The dangerous side of this condition occurs if the clot breaks loose and travels to the lungs, blocking blood flow, causing pulmonary embolism.
Luckily, there are ways to prevent DVT. It most commonly happens within the first 72 hours following injury, but can happen to anyone with SCI as the chances of a blood clot increase when your legs sit still for a long period of time. When you sit still or stay in one position in bed for an extended period, your calf muscles can’t contract, which prevents normal blood circulation and increases the risk of blood clotting. The following methods can help you from ever having to deal with DVT:
-Blood thinners: Most patients with SCI will receive a blood thinner within the first 72 hours of acute SCI care and stay on the medication for about eight weeks. Talk to your doctor about your need to stay on a blood thinner, the dosage, how long to take it and lifestyle changes that may affect the medication.
-Filters: Some doctors will prescribe an inferior vena cava filter inserted into the vein for people at higher risk for DVT. Talk to your doctor to see if this option is right for you.
-Compression stockings: The pressure put on your legs by compression stockings can help blood flow and prevent the blood from pooling or clotting.
-Exercise: Regular exercise and moving your legs into new positions will help the blood properly circulate. The idea here is similar to preventing pressure sores, the more you move, the less likely you are to cut off blood flow.
-Quit smoking: Smoking increases your chances for developing DVT. Breaking the habit will help keep you healthy.
While prevention methods are important, it’s just as important to look for symptoms and get to the doctor right away if you think you might have DVT. Symptoms include pain and swelling, but for someone with SCI, that can be hard to detect. Make sure you or a caregiver do regular checks of your legs to look for swelling and other abnormalities.
As always, consult your doctor about finding the best treatment and prevention method for you before making any lifestyle changes. For more information, visit mayoclinic.org.