You've heard that advice to get up and walk around on the airplane? It's probably time to start heeding it. Your risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) — a dangerous condition in which blood clots form when they're not needed — increases exponentially with age.
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) clots frequently develop in the lower leg and can keep blood from flowing to vital organs like the heart and brain. These clots also can break off and travel through the bloodstream to the lungs, creating a blockage called a pulmonary embolism that can cause serious damage or death. These Senior Health issues are important travel considerations.
AARP's recent article entitled “6 Signs of a Blood Clot You Shouldn't Ignore” says that about 100,000 people die from blood clots each year in the U.S., according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). You're also at higher risk if you are in any of these categories:
- You're obese;
- You have lung disease, heart disease, inflammatory bowel disease or recent or recurrent cancer; or
- You are on an estrogen-based medication, such as birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy.
Scientists have also found a connection between COVID-19 and abnormal blood clots, possibly triggered by the high levels of inflammation caused by the disease. While blood clots are useful to stop bleeding after an injury, they can occur at any time and are of particular concern when you're sedentary or immobile for an extended period. Medical experts say you should be especially alert for clot symptoms at these times:
- After having surgery, particularly if it was a procedure of the abdomen, pelvis, hip or legs (50% of blood clots happen during or soon after a hospital stay or surgery, according to the CDC)
- If you have experienced recent trauma or a broken bone
- When you are bedridden for any reason; and
- During or shortly after a prolonged car or plane ride.
Older patients with Senior Health issues who develop DVT often attribute their symptoms to other ailments, leading to dangerous delays in diagnosis, says Lee Kirksey, M.D., a vascular surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic. “As we age, we have more aches and pains,” Kirksey says. “You figure if you wait it out, it will go away.”
However, while some small blood clots go away on their own, larger ones rarely do, Barnes says. He and other experts say you should seek medical care, if you have any of these common signs and symptoms of a blood clot:
- Pain or tenderness in one leg. A blood clot is almost always in one leg, not both.
- Swelling is a common symptom of a clot, and it typically affects your whole leg or your leg from the knee down.
- A muscle spasm or cramp you can't get rid of.
- Pain or swelling in one arm
- Chest pain or discomfort. This is a serious symptom that indicates a clot may have traveled to your lungs or heart. That's an emergency, so call 911 or go to the hospital immediately.
- Shortness of breath, dizziness or an unexplained cough. Call 911 or go to the hospital, especially if you also have other symptoms on this list.
“An important piece of information for patients to understand is that the diagnosis of a blood clot in your leg is made by a very simple test,” Kirksey says. “It's an ultrasound that's painless, requires about 15 minutes and can be done in a physician's office or at a hospital. Yet it can identify a catastrophic DVT and allow us to initiate care, so you can avoid significant complications.”
If a clot is found, most patients will be prescribed blood-thinning medicine, and other medications to break up the clot may be used. In rare cases, surgery may be required. The most important thing to remember is that if you do have a clot, getting it diagnosed and treated early lessens the chance of long-term damage and disability.
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Reference: AARP (Oct. 7, 2021) “6 Signs of a Blood Clot You Shouldn't Ignore”