How Do I Prevent Blood Clots?
Ethnicity and DVT Risk
African Americans have a higher incidence of deep vein thrombosis compared to other ethnic groups. Here's how to protect yourself if you're at risk.
By Marie Suszynski
Medically Reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
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Deep vein thrombosis can be a fatal condition, especially if a blood clot that forms in a deep vein breaks free and travels through the bloodstream. Researchers are trying to learn more about DVT to help prevent these clots. One area of study is centered on deep vein thrombosis and race.
Studies have found that there’s a much higher incidence of DVT among certain ethnic groups and among African-Americans in particular.
According to observational studies, race clearly plays a role, but doctors still don’t know why, said Gaurav Goswami, MD, a vascular and interventional radiologist in private practice in Fullerton and Newport Beach, Calif.
DVT can lead to pulmonary embolism, a condition in which a blood clot travels to the lungs. It’s the most common cause of death among patients in hospitals unrelated to the condition for which they were admitted, Dr. Goswami said.
African Americans Face Higher DVT Risk
In 2009, the Office of Minority Health at the Department of Health and Human Services warned that African Americans were at a much higher risk for DVT and pulmonary embolism than people of other ethnic backgrounds.
One study, done by University of California, Davis researchers, found that African-Americans have the highest prevalence of venous thromboembolism, or VTE — having both DVT and pulmonary embolism. The incidence was particularly high following surgery, serious illness, or another type of trauma.
Caucasians have the next highest incidence of DVT. DVT tends to occur less frequently in Hispanics, and Asians and Pacific Islanders have the lowest incidence of DVT.
Preventing Deep Vein Thrombosis
What steps should you take if you're in a high-incidence group? Talk to your doctor about tests that could uncover a clotting disorder, Goswami said. Depending on the test results, you and your doctor can work on a plan of action to try to prevent DVT.
Keep in mind that being in a low-incidence group doesn't mean you shouldn’t be aware of DVT — Goswami has seen DVT occur in healthy, active people. There are many other factors involved, including obesity and medical conditions. DVT can happen to anyone, and you should always watch for the signs, which include leg pain, swelling, redness, and skin that is warm to the touch.
Blood clots are more likely to form in anyone after an injury or surgery and when you’re immobile for long stretches, whether from an illness or during a flight or car ride. Being active is a good way to try to prevent DVT. When you can’t be active, such as when you’re on bed rest or on an airplane, help to increase your circulation by doing flexion exercises, such as foot pumps, and wear compression socks.
Any time you have unexplained leg pain, even if it’s more a nagging discomfort rather than pain, have it checked out, he said. In some cases, the sudden onset of prominent leg veins could be a sign of a clot. Another DVT sign Goswami looks for is a lack of symmetry in the legs, for instance if one leg is swollen and the other isn’t.
The sooner you get treated, the less likely you’ll suffer long-term consequences, which include chronic swelling, skin changes, discoloration, ulcerations, and varicose veins.
Doctors are more aggressive these days at treating DVT by removing as much of the clot as possible and improving blood circulation, Goswami said.
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