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Each year 300,000 people die from a little know condition called deep vein thrombosis. That's more deaths than AIDS and deaths from cancer combined. Deep vein thrombosis (throm-BO-sis), or DVT, is a blood clot that forms in a vein deep in the body. Most deep vein blood clots occur in the lower leg or thigh.

A blood clot in a deep vein can break off and travel through the bloodstream. The loose clot is called an embolus. When the clot travels to the lungs and blocks blood flow, the condition is called pulmonary embolism, which can block the exchange of air in the lungs and cause death.

Risk factors for DVT

Many factors increase your risk for deep vein thrombosis (DVT). They include: dehydration, extended periods of sitting such as in an airplane or sitting at a desk for long periods of time, injury such as a broken bone or trauma, obesity, use of birth control pills, pregnancy and the first few weeks after giving birth and surgery. Recent surgery and the subsequent confinement in the post-operative period increases the risk of DVT 70 fold and the risk is present for up to 12 weeks after the surgery. The risk for DVT is great in older people but it can occur at any age.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Deep Vein Thrombosis?

Unfortunately, only 50% of people have signs and symptoms of DVT which include swelling and pain of the leg or along a vein in the leg, increased warmth in the area of the leg that's swollen or in pain, and redness of the skin on the leg.

The signs and symptoms of the more dangerous pulmonary embolism include shortness of breath and pain associate with deep breathing. This is also accompanied by a very rapid heart rate even when sitting or at rest. Rarely there is coughing of red blood.

Prevention of DVT

Since DVT can occur with prolong sitting such as on long airplane rides, it is important to stay hydrated by drinking lots of fluids to avoid dehydration, get up often, at lest once an hour, and talk a walk down the aisle. Avoid lots of alcohol as it may cause dehydration. Even if you are traveling in a car, stop frequently, to walk around. Move your legs and flex and stretch your feet to encourage blood flow in your calves.

If you have had recent surgery, get out of bed and start walking as soon as you can. If you are at risk for a DVT, you may want to consider using compression stockings to prevent swelling in your legs. Also, the use of low dose baby aspirin reduces the risk of DVT.

Bottom Line: Deep vein thrombosis is a common condition associated with pain and swelling in the lower extremities and can result in death if a pulmonary embolus occurs. If you are experiencing any of the signs and symptoms of DVT, call your doctor immediately or go to an emergency room.