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Deep vein thrombosis

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Paul Joseph Nanna

Paul Joseph Nanna

Sudden death of an individual who just arrived from a trip to the United Kingdom or the United States of America or any other far-flung destination was quickly ascribed pulmonary embolism. Some said such an individual died of deep vein thrombosis. Indeed some have in the past been confirmed to have died of pulmonary embolism.

What then is deep vein thrombosis (DVT)? What is pulmonary embolism?

DVT refers to a condition in which a blood clot forms in one of the deep veins of the body. More commonly, DVT occurs in the deep veins of the calf muscles or the thigh. To a lesser extent, the clot may originate from the arm. DVT may form in more than one of the deep veins.

Symptoms of DVT

Pain and soreness in the calf muscles not associated with any other cause like excessive exercise. This is the first symptom that the individual will notice.

Secondly, the affected limb may become swollen. In a few cases, both legs swell up.

There are a few cases that are symptomless.

Risk factors associated with DVT

1. Age: The risk of DVT increases with age.

2. Trauma or surgery: Trauma to a vein or surgery involving a vein may predispose to DVT

3. Pregnancy: DVT is a common cause of sudden death in pregnancy. As the foetus grows in size, it exerts increasing pressure on the veins in the pelvis and the legs. Individuals with an inherited blood clotting disorder may be more predisposed to DVT in pregnancy.

4. Inherited blood clotting disorder: This disorder makes blood in the veins to clot easily.

5. Extended stay on the hospital bed: A patient who has undergone surgery, an orthopaedic patient immobilised on a splint or one who is paralysed all spend prolonged periods of time on the hospital bed. They are more or less motionless and as their muscle are not contracting and relaxing, circulation becomes slow and sluggish. In such a situation, blood clots can easily form.

6. Hormone replacement therapy in menopausal women and birth control pills in younger women both place them at risk of DVT.

7. Obesity: Excess fat in the pelvic region and legs increase pressure on the veins. Together with the sedentary lifestyle of these individuals, the risk of DVT is high.

8. Long intercontinental airplane journeys: More often than not, passengers in these fights sit down for long periods without exercising or moving their legs. The space available for the passengers’ legs may be less than adequate. As the calf and thigh muscles remain motionless for long, clots may easily form. It is obvious that moving around in an airplane reduces the risk of DVT.

9. A family history of DVT: You are more likely to have DVT if a member of your family has had it before.

10. Heart failure: This is a complication of hypertension where the function of the heart and lungs have been reduced. Blood clots are easily formed between a heart and lungs that are not functioning optimally.

Complication of Deep Vein Thrombosis – Pulmonary Embolism

When a thrombus gets detached from the wall of the vein where it was formed and is carried to other locations, it becomes known as an embolus.

An embolus that originates from a thrombus in the vein is bound for the heart; it will eventually arrive at the right side of the heart through the large vein known as the inferior vena vava. From the heart, the embolus travels through the pulmonary veins to the lungs. This embolus, which can become as big as a man’s thumb, can block a big vein in the lungs and cause immediate death of the individual.

This condition is known as pulmonary embolism and is one of the common cause of sudden death in man. Sudden death of an individual who had embarked on a long journey by air is more often than not, caused by pulmonary embolism.

Symptoms of pulmonary embolism

The following are symptoms of pulmonary embolism:

1. Chest pain: The pain gets worse as a deep breath is taken. Coughing also worsens the pain.

2. Sudden experience of shortness of breath.

3. Dizziness, feeling faint and lightheaded.

4. Haemoptysis: Coughing out blood in the sputum.

Pulmonary embolism has caused a lot of deaths in this country and preventive measures to be taken against this very fatal condition are easy. In next week’s Thursday’s edition of the Guardian Newspaper, I shall be presenting the treatment and prevention of DVT


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