Common myths about deep vein thrombosis

DVT or Deep Vein Thrombosis is surrounded by mysterious warnings about its causes. According to some reports, sitting by the window, consuming alcohol, traveling in economy class and air travel during pregnancy are some of the factors that may contribute to DVT. What are the underlying connections? Are these reports true or fiction? A deep insight dispels all these myths.

DVT is not a fatal disease

A major risk associated with deep vein thrombosis is PE or pulmonary embolism. PE occurs when a blood clot gets dislodged from the walls of the veins, and moves to the pulmonary artery and lodges itself there, blocking circulation in the arteries, or in one of the branches. This causes shortness of breath, a rapid pulse rate, sweating and cough with blood. DVT related PE is the leading cause of preventable hospital deaths in US hospitals. However, the good news is that DVT and PE are preventable and can be treated. It becomes fatal when it is left untreated, and leads to severe complications killing nearly 300,000 people every year in the US alone.

DVT and cancer have no links to each other

About 10% of people who have DVT/PE are diagnosed with cancer within a year. There may be blood clots with no known cause, and there may be a need for more extensive tests to detect an underlying cancer. While the reason is still an enigma, studies suggest that cancer may cause tissue damage and inflammation. Tumors also release chemicals that trigger clotting. people suffering from cancers of the ovaries, brain, pancreas, colon, lung, stomach and kidneys have the highest risk of developing DVT also.

DVT is caused by genetic factors

Although genetic factors are important pointers to the disease, there are certain medical treatments that trigger DVT. For instance, chemotherapy which is used for the treatment of cancer, is associated with a higher risk of blood clots. Thalidomide and lenalidomide, used for multiple myeloma, avastin and chemotherapy given in combination seem to trigger blood clots. Breast cancer patients treated with tamoxifen, erythropoietin used for treating anemia also at increased risk of a blood clot. It may be because these medications damage the blood vessels and reduce the production of proteins that protect us from clots.

Sitting in a window seat on an airplane can cause DVT

Newspapers report that sitting in a window seat during air travel increases the risk of DVT. While it is true that DVT has long been associated with air travel, it is not air travel per se which causes it. Journeys of more than eight hours by air could slow down blood circulation in the lower limbs, leading to clots. People sitting near the window are less inclined to get up and walk around, which could have led to this slightly illogical myth. The remedy is to exercise the legs as much as possible during long flights.

Bed rest is required for DVT patients

The traditional method of treating mobile patients with acute deep vein thrombosis with several days of bed rest has been challenged by research scholars, who have proved that exercises are better to cure this condition. Lung scans taken regularly showed a decrease in pulmonary embolism. The pain and swelling in the lower limbs of DVT patients reduced faster, giving a better quality of life to them. Patients opting for home therapy can be taught to use walking with good compression stockings as a major therapy apart from medication.

Taking aspirin before flying prevents DVT

Taking aspirin before flying will not prevent DVT, but on the contrary, could cause it. During a flight, aspirin can induce sleep and this can increase the risk of deep vein thrombosis, because it is caused by being confined without movement for a long time. This is more common today than in the past, as flights cover longer distances to reach the farthest corners of the world making air travel longer. Doctors suggest flexing and stretching ankles, wearing a hose or compression support to improve circulation, and to keep walking to prevent the blood from getting clotted.

Flying in economy class increases risk of DVT

According to new guidelines from medical specialists, there is no proof that flying economy class increases chances of deep vein thrombosis. The nickname for travelers’ blood clots being the ‘economy class syndrome’ is totally unfounded. This group based in Northbrook III has more than 18,000 physicians specializing in disease and critical care. The new guidelines indicate that four hours or less of flying has no harmful effect, only flying for eight hours or more puts a person at risk. People with increased risk factors like obesity, age or pregnancy must wear flying stockings or get clearance from the physician while going for a long travel, whether by air or by road.

DVT strikes only the elderly

Though elderly patients are more at risk because of lesser physical activity and other afflictions, deep vein thrombosis can strike anyone with diabetes, obesity, or affected by other genetic factors. Approximately one in 1,000 people develops deep vein thrombosis every year. Among the elderly, the rate is five times more. As people grow older, their cardiopulmonary system slows down. This retards blood circulation and raises the likelihood of developing blood clots.

Consumption of alcohol during flight cannot cause DVT

The air inside a plane is very dry which may cause dehydration. Blood becomes thicker with dehydration, so the risk of developing blood clots becomes higher. Alcohol is served all through the air journey, and so consumed without limitations. Alcohol increases the risk of dehydration too. Moreover, it makes you sleepy and immobile which is bad for people, and brings to a risk to develop deep vein thrombosis. Unless the alcohol intake is compensated with a non-alcoholic drink that keeps one hydrated, this should be avoided during air travel. For patients of DVT, it is dangerous because it reacts with any anticoagulant medication.

Pregnant women are safe from DVT

DVT may hit anyone, but pregnant women are more prone to blood clots. During pregnancy, the flow of blood from the legs to the heart becomes sluggish. This may be a natural tendency of the body designed to stop excessive bleeding during delivery. Reduction in the blood flow and the thickness of the blood can result in blood clotting. Pregnancy hormones in the veins could be the cause of the altered blood chemistry. Blood clots are dangerous during pregnancy. So, any swelling or pain in the leg should be attended immediately to prevent further complications.

DVT does not affect athletes

Just as DVT affects people who don’t exercise their legs, the reverse also holds true. Athletes, marathon runners and people who put themselves to extreme endurance tests may be physically very fit because of their strict exercise regimes, but the resting heart rate for these athletes is usually below normal. A slower heart rate usually means a slower circulation of blood, which is the prime cause of all blood clots. This immediately puts them in the high risk category of DVT.

Compression stockings do not help in prevention of DVT

For patients with a blood clot in their leg, compression stockings have been found to reduce the incidence of DVT recurring or worsening. In some patients who are at a high risk of developing DVT, doctors recommend the use of compression stockings even if they do not have a blood clot. This is for patients who are bed ridden or have undergone a surgery to improve circulation and prevent blood clots. The misconception occurs because nearly 30 percent of the patients have been found to use incorrect sizes or incorrect methods of wearing them. Knee length stockings have been found to be better than thigh length. The procedure for wearing them is to lie down and wait for the swelling in the legs to subside and then wear them. In this way, the stockings prevent pooling of the blood in the legs and improve circulation

Women are at a greater risk of contracting DVT

This statement is generic and misleading. The factor V Leiden gene variant causes DVT during long flights. While this increases the risk by eight times in men, it is eighty times for women. But, women who smoke and are obese have a greater risk. Pregnant women, women on oral contraceptives or on a hormone replacement therapy, should compulsorily watch out for DVT. As DVT may not show symptoms sometimes, it is better to get a precautionary scan for blood clots.

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