Why is Deep Vein Thrombosis Dangerous?

Common conditions, Exercise, Health, Lifestyle

DVT What is thrombosis?

Thrombosis is a process by which there is clotting of the blood in a part of the circulatory system. This causes a partial or total obstruction thus preventing blood from flowing normally through the circulatory system. This clot is known as a thrombus. 

What is Deep Vein Thrombosis(DVT)? 

A blood clot (thrombus) in the deep venous system is known as DVT. These clots are formed in the deep veins which are a part of the circulatory system that helps bring deoxygenated blood back to the heart. These veins have one-way valves that function to transport blood from various parts of the body to the heart as shown in Fig 1.

veins of our body

Fig 1: Deep veins of the body

Which body part can be affected with DVT?

There is a greater risk of developing DVT in your lower limbs than upper body as the deep lower limb veins work harder to carry blood back to the heart with forces from the body weight and gravity acting on them at the same time. In addition, if there are other factors that increases the pressure exerted on the valves in the deep lower limb veins, there are more chances of blood collecting within the veins thus making the lower limbs deep veins more susceptible to DVT.

Why is DVT dangerous?

There is a risk of a partial or complete detachment of this thrombus formed in the deep veins. This allows the thrombus to move with the blood flow and block other blood vessels. This process is called as venous thromboembolism.

pulmonary embolism

Fig 1: Thromboembolism

As shown in Fig 1, the thrombus blocks the blood vessel and cuts off the circulation to a particular body part or organ. This will lead to a lack of oxygen to the tissue (ischemia) and a loss of tissue function. The clot can also reach other blood vessels that supply the vital organs of the body, putting the body at a dangerous risk of stroke, lung, heart problems and post-thrombotic syndrome (PTS).

Post-thrombotic syndrome is a chronic(long-term) problem that occurs with DVT and involves chronic leg pain, swelling, redness, and ulcers (sores).

How does a thrombus form in the deep veins?

Blood clotting is the transformation of liquid blood into a semi-solid gel. The blood has a protein called fibrin. Fibrin is usually in its inactive state but when tissues or blood vessels are damaged, it becomes active. This process is called coagulation. The main reason of thrombus formation can be explained by the Virchow’s triad as shown in fig 2.

cause of thrombus

Fig 2: Main causes of thrombus formation

Conditions of prolonged bed rest or immobility which could be lifestyle-related or due to other reasons may cause stasis of blood within the veins that may lead to clot formation. Also, if there is an imbalance of the coagulation and anti-coagulation factors in the blood which may be caused by an injury or acute/chronic inflammation to the blood vessel walls may cause blood clot formation.

Who is at risk of developing DVT?

  • Anyone with vein trauma due to broken hip or leg fractures during accidents.
  • Long periods of air travel coupled with lack of movement in sitting position can cause excessive swelling in the legs and stagnation of blood flow leading to clot formation.
  • Bed bound individuals post-surgery, muscular paralysis from a spinal cord injury, pregnancy or having recently given birth, especially by C-section, causing swelling and lack of calf muscle strength that impair blood circulation in the legs.
  • People with inherited blood clotting disorder.
  • People who have cancer as tumors shed particles that contain procoagulant activity.
  • Smoking affects blood circulation and stiffens the blood vessel wall making a smoker at higher risk of DVT.
  • Side-effects with the use of hormone therapy, including that used for postmenopausal symptoms among women.
  • Individuals with varicose veins, which are swollen, twisted and painful may develop clots.
  • People with a history of heart attack, stroke or congestive heart failure have high levels of cholesterol in the blood that lead to inflammation and possibly clot formation.

Signs and Symptoms of DVT

  • Pain, swelling and tenderness in one of your legs (usually your calf)
  • Affected area can be very painful and heavy.
  • Warm skin in the area of the clot.
  • Redness of the skin, particularly at the back of your leg below the knee.

How is DVT diagnosed?

A physical examination may not be enough as there may be individuals with no possible signs of DVT. Diagnostic tests will be necessary to confirm the condition.

  • Doppler ultrasound scan:  A clot may be visible in the image. Sometimes a series of ultrasounds are done over several days to determine whether a blood clot is growing or to detect any formation or movement of a clot.
  • Blood test: An elevated level of a clot-dissolving substance called D dimer will be found in the blood.
  • Venography. A dye (contrast agent) is injected into a large vein in your foot or ankle. An X-ray procedure is then undertaken that creates an image of the veins in your legs and feet, to look for clots. 
  • CT or MRI scans. Both computerized tomography (CT) scan and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can provide visual images of your veins and may detect any clot formed. 

When to seek medical care?

  • If you get swelling, redness, and pain in your leg, it may indicate a blood clot and immediate medical attention should be given. Sometimes there may not be any signs or symptoms or these symptoms could be due to other inflammatory condition or infection, therefore, it is difficult to make the diagnosis without seeking medical advice.
  • If there is associated pain in the chest or breathlessness further concern exists that you may be at risk of a pulmonary embolus. This could be a potential danger hence if you are at risk its best to discuss with your doctor about taking medications for preventing clot formation.

How to prevent DVT?

  • Compression stockings for bed bound individuals.
  • Early ambulation Post-surgery – getting the individual out of bed walking to allow good circulation of blood. If not possible, use a continuous passive motion (CPM).
  • Low dose of anti-coagulants can also be prescribed by the doctor.
  • During long flights, it is recommended to move frequently and/or use compression stockings.
  • Ankle exercises can help pump the blood from the legs upwards to the heart.
  • Lifestyle modifications –  smoking cessation and increased exercise.

If in doubt or experiencing any of the symptoms, always seek medical advice immediately. When detected early, it’s much easier to deal with.

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Restless Legs Syndrome

Common conditions, Exercise, Foot, Health, Lifestyle

restless leg syndrome

What is restless legs syndrome?

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a neurological disorder that is characterized by an uncomfortable sensation in the legs and rarely the arms. This leads to an overwhelming urge to move them continuously.

These movements may,

  • happen to partially or totally relieve discomfort.
  • begin or worsen during periods of rest such as lying or sitting
  • worsen during sleep, causes time to time movements also known as “periodic leg movements”.

It has also been suggested that RLS would be called “Willis-Ekbom disease”, as an homage to the two pioneers Thomas Willis and Karl-Axel Ekbom who first reported this condition. 

What causes RLS?

  • Unknown cause
  • Genetic cause

RLS symptoms are related to hyperexcitability of the central nervous system- brain and spinal cord due to a possible deficiency of a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine plays a role in controlling muscle movement and may be responsible for the involuntary leg movements associated with RLS.

  • Disorder of the peripheral nervous system

The peripheral nervous system involves the nerves that carry signals from different parts of the body to the brain. The most likely possibility is the presence of hypoxia (lack of oxygen) caused by changes in blood flow or metabolism in the lower limbs that irritates the sensory nerves of the legs causing restlessness. 

  • Iron-deficiency anaemia – low levels of iron in the blood can lead to a drop in dopamine, triggering restless legs syndrome
  • Chronic (long-term) health conditions – such as chronic kidney disease, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, an underactive thyroid gland or fibromyalgia.
  • Radiculopathies: Radiculopathies are problems with the nerves and occur due to nerve compression at the spine caused by disc herniation and protrusion and/or disc degeneration. It is most commonly seen in the lower back regions (Lumbar spine). Nerve compression could cause referred pain and tingling sensations along the back of the leg to the feet that may be a secondary cause for RLS. 
  • Pregnancy – particularly from week 27 until birth; in most cases, the symptoms disappear within four weeks of giving birth
  • Side effects of certain medication: Antidepressants, Antipsychotic medicine, Lithium (used in the treatment of bipolar disorder), Calcium channel blockers (used in the treatment of high blood pressure), Antihistamines, Metoclopramide (used to relieve nausea). 
  • Lifestyle problems: Excessive smoking, caffeine/ alcohol, obesity, stress and lack of exercise.

Who can be affected with RLS?

  • Both the genders are affected but women are twice as likely to develop RLS than men which is still unknown and is suggested to be related to genetics, body functions or emotional differences. 
  • People of all ages can be affected but more commonly seen among middle-aged people secondary to other health conditions.

What are the signs and symptoms of RLS?

Signs and symptoms may vary from day to day, in severity and frequency from person to person during rest and most often during sleep. 

  • Abnormal sensations (Paresthesias)- pulling, creeping etc.
  • Unpleasant abnormal sensations (Dysesthesias)- the sensations range in severity from uncomfortable to irritating to painful example, tingling, burning, aching or like electric shocks.
  • Periodic leg movements during sleep
  • Typical movements like pacing and walking, jiggling the legs, stretching and bending, tossing and turning, rubbing the legs.
  • Inability to sleep leading to sleep disorders like insomnia (lack of sleep) due to increased urge to move or sudden waking up from sleep due to periodic leg movements.
  • Hyperactivity may be seen among children with RLS.
  • Fatigue/tiredness, lack of concentration, problems with cognitive function (related to thinking, attention and decision making) due to lack of sleep and excessive movements in the leg most often felt throughout the day.

How is RLS diagnosed?

There are no diagnostic tests that can diagnose RLS.

A thorough clinical assessment of the patient is necessary to be able to diagnose this condition. 

  • Clinical history: The history of the patient about signs and symptoms associated with RLS will be important for the diagnosis. The frequency, duration, and intensity of symptoms the aggravating and relieving factors as well as their tendency to occur during day and night time will be noted.
  • Family and Medical History: Family history and problems of other health conditions and the use of medications will be noted that may be the suggestive cause for RLS.
  • Neurological and physical examination: Examination of other underlying conditions related to muscle or nerve problems. 
  • Blood tests: blood test can be done to identify iron and vitamin deficiencies as well as other medical disorders associated with RLS.  
  • Sleep studies such as polysomnography (a test that records the individual’s brain waves, heartbeat, breathing, and leg movements during an entire night of sleep) may identify the presence of periodic leg movements and other problems of sleep.
  • RLS in children: This may be difficult since it may be hard for a child to describe any uncomfortable sensations in the leg and the urge for leg movements, when and how often the symptoms occur, and how long they last.
  • Misdiagnosis: RLS may be often misdiagnosed as “growing pains” or “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity disorder” (ADHD) in children and may be mistaken to be an onset of another neurological disease, such as Parkinson’s disease in adults.

How can this condition be treated?

  • Most symptoms can be treated by therapeutic treatments that improve the blood circulation of the legs, muscle flexibility and allow the nerves of the legs to relax. This can help diminish the uncomfortable sensations caused by restless legs syndrome.
  • Identification and treatment of other health problems are important to reduce the symptoms of RLS.  
  • Intake of diet rich in iron and vitamins will be beneficial.
  • Reducing smoking and alcohol consumption.
  • Stress management will help reduce symptoms and improve sleep.

Severe problems with RLS can be also be treated along with prescribed medications that improve the dopamine levels in the body. However, RLS may generally be a lifelong condition.There may be periods of no symptoms but may eventually reappear sooner or later. Adhering to the treatment methods can help reduce the symptoms at all times.