DVT symptoms may be vague, but there could be a ticking time bomb in your leg. Know the potentially lifesaving rules for preventing and detecting a blood clot from deep vein thrombosis.
CLAIRE BENOIST FOR READER’S DIGEST
When she was 42, Tina Theobald suddenly developed a charley horse that wouldn’t ease. She had recently started jogging and thought nothing of the sore calf muscle. She iced it and hobbled through a short trip to Mexico as her leg swelled. Theobald happened to be scheduled to see her doctor for a sprained thumb upon her return, and she was diagnosed with—and immediately hospitalized for—a large blood clot in her leg. Two days later, Theobald struggled to breathe and was hit with chest pain so excruciating, she needed morphine. A portion of the clot had broken off and was blocking the blood supply to part of her lung, a life-threatening condition called pulmonary embolism.
Theobald always thought blood clots affected older people—and it’s true that their risk is far higher—but she quickly discovered that young and middle-aged people are vulnerable too. A number of risk factors play a role, including certain medications, pregnancy, immobility that allows blood to pool (prolonged sitting, say, during a long flight), surgery or trauma (such as a car accident) that can injure veins, and conditions that increase blood clotting (such as cancer and autoimmune disorders).
By conservative estimates, each year as many as 600,000 people in the United States develop deep vein thrombosis (DVT)—clots most common in leg veins, where they can cause pain, swelling, and redness. More than one in four adults struck by a first DVT or pulmonary embolism are under 50, according to a population study of Minnesota adults. One third of DVTs are followed by pulmonary embolism, which kills as many as 100,000 people each year, often suddenly, says the CDC. A 2013 report from Australia indicates that deaths from pulmonary embolism are on the rise in women 25 to 44.