Heart Health - Blood Clots

Feb 15, 2017

By Barret Procyshyn, Pharmacist at the Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy

February is Heart Month so it's a good time to talk about the circulatory system. The bloods ability to clot is one of our most important healing mechanisms. Our blood clots after flesh wounds, nosebleeds, surgery and various other types of injury. Clotting or coagulation begins when a blood vessel is damaged. The blood vessel has sensors which initiate clotting factors when blood vessel damage occurs. It is a very complex process, which very simply, keeps us alive.

However; while our blood clots to help protect us; unnecessary clotting can cause damage and even death. Damaging blood clots are actually quite common. You may have heard the warnings about birth control pills and high dose of hormone replacement causing an increased risk of clots. Anti-smoking campaigns make no secret that smoking increases the risk of clots. Billions of dollars have been spent researching Aspirin, Warfarin and new medications designed to prevent blood clots. Newer blood thinners include Xarelto (dabigatran) and Eliquis (apixaban). Blood clots are a major contributor to the leading causes of death in our country. You may have also heard the terms DVT and Pulmonary Embolism.

A deep venous thrombosis or DVT is a condition where a blood clot forms in a blood vessel deep inside the body. DVTs can form when blood movement slows in the veins. Risk factors include bed rest, smoking, and fractures in the lower extremities, recent child birth, cancer, heart failure, obesity, and recent surgery or blood cell problems. Hormones in significant doses have also been linked to blood clots. Sitting for long periods of time, such as travelling, can also increase the risk of a DVT. A DVT most often occurs in the large veins in the thigh and lower leg.

A DVT is most common in adults over the age of sixty, but they can occur at any age. Symptoms of a DVT can vary. The clot will block blood flow, causing swelling and usually some type of leg pain. Commonly there is also redness, warmth or tenderness in the affected leg. There also may be pain in the leg when putting weight on the foot. However, some DVTs cause no symptoms.

A DVT should involve immediate medical attention. If you notice unexplained redness, warmth or tenderness with pain in a lower extremity, make sure you have a medical professional rule out a clot. If the clot breaks off the vessel and travels through the bloodstream it becomes an embolism. Embolisms are very serious because they can get stuck in the brain, lungs, heart or in small, yet important vessels.

A Pulmonary Embolism is a sudden blockage in the lung artery. PEs as they are called for short, are very serious because they can cause permanent damage in the lung, low oxygen levels in the blood and damage to the other organs in your body because of the low oxygen. Up to 30% of patients with a PE will die if left untreated. Most risk is during the first few hours of the PE.

Although rare, travelers are at an increased risk of DVT, due to long periods of immobility. During all types of travel it is a good idea to stay mobile. If seated, try stretching the calf and leg muscles every hour. Even wiggling the toes or pressing the soles of your feet on the floor will improve circulation. Stop at a gas station and walk around every couple of hours or if you are in a plane take a walk down the aisle. Travelers should also stay well hydrated, avoiding alcohol and caffeine.

Compression stockings are also a great idea if you are travelling, sitting for any extended periods of time and are at increased risk of DVTs. These are special socks which deliver a certain amount of compression at the ankle and up the leg. Compression stockings or TED stockings come in various styles, sizes and pressure gradients. Compression stockings should always be fitted properly, with proper measurements taken by a fitter. If you would like more information please speak to one of our certified fitters at the pharmacy.

There are also other ways to prevent DVTs. Quitting smoking and cutting salt intake decreases your risk. If you have problems with fluid retention in your legs try elevating your feet, wear compression stockings or talk to your doctor about possible treatment. If you are scheduled for a certain type of surgical procedure, you may also be prescribed medications to prevent blood clots. If you ever have questions you can always talk to your clinic pharmacist.

In the spirit of Healthy Heart Month make sure you participate in the FREE Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy Walking Track day at Credit Union Place on February 14. Exercise always goes a long way in keeping you healthy!

For the 730 CKDM Pharmacy Feature and the team at the Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy. I am Barret Procyshyn


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