Thrombosis is one of the main causes of stroke and heart attack, but what is it and how can you prevent it?

Commonly known as ‘blood clot’, thrombosis is a serious condition that can result in stroke, heart attack and venous thromboembolism or VTE.

VTE is condition that includes both deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism (PE), which is when a clot blocks a major artery in a lung. These can all result in permanent disability and can also be fatal.

Thrombosis kills one in four people

According to the International Society on Thrombosis and Haemostasis (ISTH), one in four people worldwide die from conditions caused by thrombosis. 

“Many South Africans have heard of blood clotting, but few people know what VTE is and sadly a large number of individuals succumb to it. VTE also poses a great risk to patients before and after undergoing surgery and can impact their recovery,” says Dr Biancha Mentoor, clinical improvement lead at Netcare.

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“When deep vein thrombosis is left untreated and progresses, it can cause parts of the blood clot to break away and enter the lungs, which in turn causes a potentially lethal pulmonary embolism. Together, deep vein thrombosis and a pulmonary embolism are known as a venous thromboembolism.”

The symptoms

According to the ISTH, the signs and symptoms of DVT include:

  • Pain or tenderness in the calf and/or thigh
  • Swelling of the leg, foot and/or ankle
  • Redness and/or noticeable discolouration and warmth

People with PE usually experience:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid breathing
  • Chest pain (which may be worse during deep breath)
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Light-headedness and/or fainting

Who is at risk?

Risk factors for VTE include:

  • Hospitalisation and/or surgery
  • Cancer
  • Prolonged immobility
  • Family history
  • Oestrogenic-containing medications (like birth control pills), pregnancy and recent birth

According to the ISTH, 60 percent of VTE cases occur during or after hospitalisation. This means that it’s important to ask your doctor for a risk assessment whenever you are admitted to the hospital.

How to prevent it

“It is tragic that close to a million people die worldwide as a result of VTE each year, especially considering the fact that it can often be prevented by doing a few basic exercises, making some small adjustments to your lifestyle or adding prophylactic non-pharmacological or pharmacological measures to the prevention regime,” notes Dr Anchen Laubscher, Netcare’s medical director, a firm supporter of the campaign.

“For this very reason Netcare has partnered with the International Society on Thrombosis and Haemostasis in the United States and have embraced #keeplifemoving as the theme of this year’s Thrombosis Day activities at Netcare hospitals,” Dr Laubscher adds.

The ISTH advise you to request a VTE risk assessment when admitted to hospital. Patients deemed ‘at-risk’ should be given appropriate prevention, which may include:

  • anti-clotting medication (e.g., blood thinners, referred to as ‘anticoagulants’)
  • mechanical devices (e.g., compression stockings, intermittent pneumatic compression devices or rapid inflation venous foot pumps)

Hospital patients may also be instructed to move around or do foot/leg exercises as soon and as often as possible.

On World Thrombosis Day (13 October), Netcare hospitals will be educating patients on the different types of leg exercises that can be done while in hospital to improve blood flow and reduce the risk of blood clots.

“This is an important component of the Netcare VTE prevention program,” concludes Dr Mentoor.

Sources: International Society on Thrombosis and Haemostasis and Netcare

While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.