Deep-vein thrombosis (DVT) can occur at any age, but adults who are 60 years or older are at a greater risk of developing the condition. These blood clots form in the deep vein of a person’s body, such as in the leg or arm, and they can be particularly dangerous if pieces of the clot break off and travel to major organs of the body. If a clot does break off, it could block a blood vessel in the lung and lead to a pulmonary embolism, a potentially life-threatening condition that often demands immediate medical attention.
For seniors and their caregivers, it’s important to recognize the symptoms of DVT as well as ways you can actively lower the risk of developing the condition. Age is one of the many risk factors, but active lifestyle changes and other efforts are positive steps one can take.
Risk Factors of DVT:
- Sedentary Lifestyle
- Leading an inactive life is unhealthy at any age, but it can be especially hazardous for older adults. Strength and mobility decline as the years pile on, which can make it difficult for seniors to get up and get moving. Like the condition’s ‘Sitting Disease’ nickname suggests, a lack of activity can also cause sluggish blood flow throughout the body and increase a person’s risk of DVT.
- Being overweight or obese
- Regular exercise can become a difficult task for seniors and can lead to weight gain over the years. We know the extra pounds aren’t healthy for a number of reasons, but they also put pressure on the pelvic and leg veins, increasing a person’s risk for DVT.
- Prolonged bed rest after surgery or an injury
- Falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries for older adults and can often lead to surgery and prolonged bed rest. Seniors also undergo 20% of all surgical procedures, presenting the opportunity for inactivity with bed rest. Prolonged periods spent off your feet cause your calf muscles to not circulate your blood properly, putting you at greater risk for DVT.
Symptoms of DVT:
Oftentimes, symptoms of DVT can feel similar to minor health conditions, so it’s important to listen to your body. Common side effects of DVT include:
- Cramping in the calf that spreads
- Pain or tenderness in the foot or leg
- Swelling of the ankle, foot or leg
How to Lower Your Risk of DVT:
There are certain steps you, as a senior or caregiver, can take to lower the risk of developing DVT. These include:
- Move every 1-2 hours
- To combat sluggish blood flow, seniors should try to move around every 1-2 hours if their mobility allows them to. Even a short walk can be enough to increase circulation and lower DVT risk. Studies have shown that exercise is a form of medicine in itself for older adults, so regular light workouts should also be encouraged.
- Take blood thinners
- Anticoagulants, or blood thinners, are commonly prescribed as a treatment for DVT but they can also be taken as a preventative measure. If you have a pre-existing condition like atrial fibrillation or have had surgery that requires bed rest, blood thinners may also be prescribed to prevent the formation of clots.
- Be mindful, however, of anticoagulants’ severe side effects. Due to the nature of the drug, blood thinners can cause major internal bleeding, so it’s important to choose the medication that is right for your lifestyle. Two popular options include:
- Xarelto (Rivaroxaban) – This oral anticoagulant boasts a convenience factor of requiring no weekly blood draws or other monitoring efforts. However, there is no antidote to reverse its blood-thinning effects, which means that one bad fall could result in severe internal bleeding. Xarelto’s manufacturer has also faced legal issues because of the lack of antidote, and although it is effective for some patients, it may not be the right choice for others.
- Coumadin (Warfarin) – This traditional anticoagulant requires dietary adjustments and regular blood draws to ensure proper dosage is being given. Vitamin K serves as a natural antidote for the medication, but it could still cause severe internal bleeding and other complications if not taken properly.
- Drink water often
- Dehydration causes your blood to thicken and can increase your risk of DVT. Make sure that you drink water throughout the day to stay hydrated. A good visual representation of proper water intake is a light yellow color of urine. If it is darker, it’s likely a sign that you need to drink more fluids.
Deep-vein thrombosis does not discriminate and can strike anyone, no matter how fit they are. Knowing the prevention methods and symptoms of this type of blood clot can ensure that you live a healthy life for years to come.
Morgan Statt is a senior health advocate for ConsumerSafety.org.