Thrombosis: The Silent Killer.

Thrombosis - The Silent Killer. Photo credit: WebMD
Thrombosis – The Silent Killer. Photo credit: WebMD

This article was inspired by a very personal experience! Old age is something, and considering I have family that have just started transitioning from the ‘young and vibrant’ category to what we can now call ‘elderly’, I’ve been forced to be more conversant with age-related sicknesses, even though Thrombosis isn’t age specific.

Recently, someone I know developed blood clots in his hand and leg, but it never hit home just how dangerous it could have been till I read up about the condition.  Blood Clots, or Thrombosis or Deep Vein Thrombosis is dangerous; extremely dangerous indeed. In some cases, sufferers of blood clots are not even aware till very late on, by that time it is fatal, often within an hour or less.

Here’s what you should know – “Thrombosis is the formation of a blood clot inside a blood vessel, obstructing the flow of blood through the circulatory system.” Thrombosis may occur in veins (venous thrombosis) or in arteries. According to the National Health Service (NHS), “Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot that develops within a deep vein in the body, usually in the leg. It can cause pain and swelling in the leg and may lead to complications such as pulmonary embolism. This is a serious condition that occurs when a piece of blood clot breaks off into the bloodstream and blocks one of the blood vessels in the lungs.” 

Blood Clots can develop deep in the veins and are called Deep Vein Thrombosis.

Pulmonary Embolism is the nitty gritty of this article, for you can still survive a blood clot. The chances of surviving Deep Vein Thrombosis are still good. However, things start getting complicated when the clot breaks off and begins to travel inside your vein. According to the NHS, if left untreated, about 1 in 10 people with a DVT will develop a pulmonary embolism. A pulmonary embolism is a very serious condition that causes:

  • breathlessness – which may come on gradually or suddenly 
  • chest pain – which may become worse when you breathe in 
  • sudden collapse  

Both DVT and pulmonary embolism require urgent investigation and treatment. Seek immediate medical attention if you have pain, swelling and tenderness in your leg, and you develop breathlessness and chest pain.

Thrombosis symptoms. Chest Pains? Seek medical attention quickly,. (Photo Credit:cprcertified.com)

Each year between 100,000-180,000 Americans die as the result of pulmonary embolism (Vascular Disease Foundation) which means every five minutes someone dies from a blood clot or deep vein thrombosis. Certainly, the figure will be higher in Africa where records of such deaths are less accurate. You have heard of people who ‘just dropped dead’ with seemingly no health issues… upon investigation, it could be determined that Pulmonary Embolism ( as a result of Deep Vein Thrombosis) could be the cause factor. Professionals list Pulmonary Embolism as on of the top five causes of sudden death after Cardiac Arrest, Heart Attack, Stroke and Aortic Rupture.

Picture this: you’re enjoying a nice sunny walk with your family or friends.  The sun is shining, the view is beautiful, and things couldn’t be better. Then all of a sudden, someone collapses and doesn’t get up. While this sounds like a nightmare, it happens on a regular basis. Thats how deadly it can be.

The causes of Deep Vein Thrombosis

Anyone can develop DVT, but it becomes more common over the age of 40. A few years ago, I read about a young, otherwise healthy lady who died from complications of DVT on a long haul flight from London to Sydney. Other risk factors, include:

  • having a history of DVT or pulmonary embolism 
  • having a family history of blood clots 
  • being inactive for long periods – such as after an operation or during a long journey.
  • blood vessel damage – a damaged blood vessel wall can result in the formation of a blood clot 
  • having certain conditions or treatments that cause your blood to clot more easily than normal – such as cancer (including chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment), heart and lung disease, thrombophilia and Hughes syndrome
  • being pregnant – your blood also clots more easily during pregnancy 
  • being overweight or obese 
  • The combined contraceptive pill and hormone replacement therapy (HRT) both contain the female hormone oestrogen, which causes the blood to clot more easily. If you’re taking either of these, your risk of developing DVT is slightly increased.

Treating DVT

Deep Vein Thrombosis can be treated with anticoagulant medicines. The most common ones are Heparin, Warfarin, Rivaroxaban and Apixaban. These drugs work by reducing the blood’s ability to clot and stop existing clots getting bigger.

Preventing DVT

Thrombosis. Take regular walks on long flights. (Photo credit: stripes.com)

Here are some practical steps to prevent DVT according to the National Blood Clot Alliance

  • Ask your doctor about need for “blood thinners” or compression stockings to prevent clots, whenever you go to the hospital
  • Lose weight, if you are overweight
  • Stay active
  • Exercise regularly; walking is fine
  • Avoid long periods of staying still
  • Get up and move around at least every hour whenever you travel on a plane, train, or bus, particularly if the trip is longer than 4 hours
  • Do heel toe exercises or circle your feet if you cannot move around
  • Stop at least every two hours when you drive, and get out and move around
  • Drink a lot of water and wear loose fitted clothing when you travel
  • Talk to your doctor about your risk of clotting whenever you take hormones, whether for birth control or replacement therapy, or during and right after any pregnancy
  • Follow any self-care measures to keep heart failure, diabetes, or any other health issues as stable as possible

Thrombosis is not something you can underrate or wish away. It is real, it is serious, it can be deadly and it is often quiet. I feel it a duty to spread the word about thrombosis Stay safe, and always keep healthy.

Kole Obasa

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