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Don't let a clot ruin your life

Last updated February 2013

ThrombosisDon't let a clot ruin your life

Thrombosis – or blood clots - kill as many as 25,000 people every year in the UK, more than breast cancer and traffic accidents combined.

Many thousands more will suffer from long term health problems as a result of blood clots yet, frighteningly, a large percentage of these people have been totally unaware that they were at any increased risk.

Blood clots can occur in the deep leg veins than run through the muscles of the calf and thigh and when this happens, the condition is called deep vein thrombosis or DVT. It usually occurs in just one leg. Generally you will notice something is wrong; the leg can become swollen or painful, it may become pale in colour or reddish purple; or perhaps the skin can appear tight and shiny. Sometimes, however, there are no early symptoms at all.

The real danger occurs when part of a clot breaks away and starts travelling around in the normal blood circulation. It can then travel on up to the heart or into the lungs where it can block a blood vessel. It is thought that this happens to around half of patients suffering from DVT.

When this happens, it is known as a pulmonary embolus, or PE, and the symptoms can include chest pain and a shortness of breath. However, sometimes there really are no symptoms. A PE can be life threatening and urgent treatment is required. There can also be long term complications even after treatment, so it is a condition that needs to be treated with the utmost seriousness.

Immobility or lack of movement can greatly increase the chances of a blood clot forming because it slows the blood flow in your veins. Nowadays it is quite common practice to wear special socks for long flights and passengers are encouraged to walk around every so often to keep the blood flow moving. In hospital after an operation, there is also increased risk of thrombosis because of lack of movement and today many patients are given a daily injection of heparin to reduce the chances of getting a DVT. If you are immobile, or sit down for long periods every day, or if you are taking long journeys by train or car, there can also be an increased risk.

A good preventative measure is raising your legs when you are resting. This helps relieve the pressure in the veins of your calf and stops the blood and fluid from pooling in the calf itself. Ideally, you need to rest your leg with your foot higher than your hip and this will assist the returning blood flood back from your calf. Keeping well hydrated is also important.

The usual treatment for DVT involves using the anticoagulant medicines, heparin and warfarin. The correct dose is important to ensure that the blood does not clot too easily but also isn’t thinned too much which could cause excessive bleeding.
There is also a new group of drugs available to treat both thrombosis and embolism. These are called direct thrombin inhibitors and have fewer interactions with other drugs than traditional treatments, but they don’t suit everyone. Brand names include rivaroxaban and dabigatran.

Treatment isn’t necessarily for life, and will depend on your doctor’s view of the risk of you getting another DVT in the future.

Lifeblood – the Thrombosis Charity
Lifeblood is an active charity in the UK established by a group of people in 2002 who felt there was a real need to promote awareness about thrombosis and to increase knowledge and understanding about what it is and the treatments available.

They have a useful website at


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