This is where the staff of the Reeve Foundation is sharing up-to-the-minute information and putting some context around the news affecting the spinal cord injury and paralysis community. Not to mention insight into what's going on here at the Foundation.
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Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is the formation of a blood clot, or thrombus, in the center or deep part of a leg or arm vein. It is a very serious condition that can damage the leg and can lead to a life-threating pulmonary embolism. This is when the thrombosis breaks off and enters the blood stream, gets trapped in the lung and blocks oxygen supply and causes the heart to fail. It can also travel to the brain, causing a stroke.
DVT is related to inactivity. This sort of clot formation is not uncommon in the general population -- it has been referred to as "economy class syndrome" due to its occurrence in people sitting on long flights. DVT is a major secondary condition related to paralysis.
After spinal cord injury (SCI), the risk for a blood clot begins 72 hours after initial injury and lasts throughout life. Most individuals develop a blood clot after SCI. Almost half of those treated for blood clots will develop other clots.
DVT is a medical emergency. It is treatable and preventable but those at risk need to know what it is and what to do. The Reeve Foundation has produced a small, wallet-size educational brochure explaining DVT and how it is treated. Request your free copy here!
Here’s how DVTs start
The deep veins in the lower extremities are encased in muscle tissue that helps push oxygen-depleted blood against gravity back to the lungs and heart. Lack of robust circulation, due to inactivity or directly related to lower body paralysis, can cause the blood to pool up in the deep veins and form clots.
Leg pain can be a sign of clot formation. In people who lack sensation in the lower extremities, other signs are important to be aware of, including leg or arm swelling, skin redness over affected area, low grade fever, and for those with injuries above T6, symptoms of autonomic dysreflexia.
Signs that a clot has reached the lungs may include chest pain
, shortness of breath, coughing up blood, fast or slow heartbeat, change in mental status, fever, or noisy breathing. Seek emergency help.
For those at risk, early treatment often includes blood thinners such as heparin and coumadin, can prevent further clotting. Clots can also be removed surgically. Many people with paralysis have a can insert a vena cava filter inserted in the deep veins. This is a small device that catches blood clots but allows normal bloodflow.
Compression hose is often recommended for people at risk for DVT.
Make sure you and your health care team is fully aware of DVT and the additional risk related to paralysis.