Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) occurs when a blood clot (thrombosis) develops in a vein that’s located deep inside your body. A majority of DVTs happen in the lower leg, thigh, or pelvis, but they can also occur in the deep veins of your arms, intestines, kidneys, liver, or brain.
As the third most common vascular disease after a heart attack and stroke, DVT affects as many as 900,000 people in the United States each year. Though a range of circumstances can trigger it, over half of all DVT cases occur following a hospitalization or a major surgery.
Knowing what increases your risk of developing DVT is an important step toward protecting yourself against it. Read on as our team of board-certified experts at Vascular Vein Centers discusses the underlying mechanisms and risk factors behind this serious disorder.
Understanding how DVT develops
DVT occurs when your blood thickens until it forms a solid clump, or clot, inside one of the deep veins that delivers deoxygenated blood from your body back to your heart.
A clot may form in response to an injury that affects the blood vessel lining, or it may develop because your blood flow has become too sluggish. DVT can also occur if the consistency of your blood becomes “stickier” and more prone to clotting.
DVT can cause a partial or full blockage of blood flow in the affected vessel. Part of the clot (embolus) can also break off and travel to your lungs, causing a potentially life-threatening medical emergency called a pulmonary embolism (PE).
Risk factors that can trigger DVT
DVT is often “silent,” meaning it can develop without obvious symptoms. Knowing your risk factors for DVT is the first step in protecting your health, especially if you have multiple risk factors — the more risk factors you have, the greater your chances of developing DVT.
Although DVT can affect anyone, the following factors put you at an increased risk:
1. Traumatic vein injury
A traumatic vein injury elevates the risk of DVT because clotting (coagulation) is your body’s natural mechanism for stopping bleeding at the site of tissue damage. A complex bone fracture or severe muscle injury in your leg, for example, can lead to DVT if the injury affects one of your deep veins, too.
2. Certain surgeries
Certain major operations, including knee and hip replacement surgery, bariatric surgery, and coronary artery bypass surgery carry a high risk of DVT because they affect nearby deep veins. The likelihood of developing DVT following surgery is highest for the first three months after the procedure and decreases as time goes on.
3. Prolonged inactivity
Extended periods of inactivity — including prescribed bed rest, time in the hospital, sitting at work for most of the day, or sitting in the same position for a lengthy car trip or flight — can trigger DVT by making your blood flow too sluggish. This risk factor is significantly heightened by other risk factors.
4. Advanced age
Though DVT can happen at any age, it affects middle-aged and older adults most often. Once you turn 50, your DVT risk is essentially twice that of a younger adult. That risk continues to double every 10 years for the rest of your life.
5. Extra body weight
Being overweight is a significant DVT risk factor — research shows that obesity doubles the risk of DVT for middle-ages and older adults. Individuals with a very high body mass index (BMI) who are younger than 40 are five times more likely to develop DVT than young people who are at a healthier body weight.
6. High estrogen levels
Having higher than normal estrogen levels — whether it’s from a current or recent pregnancy, taking a hormonal birth control to prevent pregnancy, or using hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to treat the symptoms of menopause — can elevate your risk of developing a blood clot in one of your deep veins.
7. Hypercoagulable conditions
Several health conditions can put you in a “hypercoagulable state,” meaning they cause your blood to clot more easily and boost your DVT risk. Cancer, heart disease, lung disease, lupus, and inflammatory bowel disease are hypercoagulable conditions that can trigger DVT.
8. COVID-19 infection
Although experts are still learning a lot about COVID-19 and its long-term effects, they have found that the disease increases the risk of blood clots, embolisms, and bleeding for months after infection. It’s now recognized as an independent risk factor for DVT and PE, especially for high-risk patients.
DVT is preventable and treatable
When DVT goes undetected and untreated, it can lead to chronic vein inflammation, varicose veins, skin changes, leg swelling, and persistent skin ulcers near the site of the affected vein. Some people don’t learn they have DVT until they experience a dangerous PE.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Whether you think you may have DVT or you simply want to assess your risk factors and learn preventive measures, we can help.
Call our “DVT and Leg Health Hotline” at 833-687-6887 today, or use our easy online booking feature to schedule an appointment at your nearest Vascular Vein Centers office in Orlando, Waterford Lakes of East Orlando, Kissimmee, Lake Mary, The Villages, or Davenport/Haines City, Florida, any time.