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March is recognized as DVT awareness month.  DVT stands for Deep Vein Thrombosis.

DVT occurs when a blood clot forms in a vein deep inside the body. When a clot in one of these deep veins breaks off and moves through the bloodstream it is called an embolus. A potentially fatal condition called pulmonary embolism occurs when the clot travels to the lungs and blocks a pulmonary artery or one of its branches.  

According to the American Heart Association, up to 2 million Americans are affected annually by DVT. Up to 300,000 people die each year of a pulmonary embolism.

A year ago, I became one who survived it.

Sometime in February 2010 I began having a strong pain in my lower leg, just above the ankle.  I thought I’d pulled a muscle.  Over the course of a few days the pain moved up to the middle of my calf and became more intense. This went on for nearly a week and then my leg began to swell dramatically from the knee down. I spent about a week in extreme pain with my leg elevated, not really knowing the true source of my discomfort.  I was convinced it was a muscle injury.

After a couple of weeks my leg began to feel better.  But I noticed that a simple task like going up the stairs in our home was almost more than I could manage.  Once I reached the top of the stairs I was out of breath and felt I would surely pass out. When I went to the grocery store for some overdue shopping, pushing the cart was almost more than I could manage.  I was so out of breath I couldn’t walk and talk at the same time.  

The next morning my heart was pounding…even though I was lying down.  Something wasn’t right. Then I started having chest pains.  That’s when I went to the emergency room.  At the ER they did a CT scan and discovered that I had pulmonary embolisms in each of my lungs.  I was instantly given a blood thinning medication and transported to a Lincoln, Nebraska, hospital by ambulance.  

Pulmonary embolisms are life threatening.  However, prompt treatment with anti-clotting medications greatly reduces the risk of dying from this condition.  I took two shots a day of an anticoagulant for about two weeks and was then placed on an oral blood thinning medication for nearly a year.  If you have had DVT before then you are more likely to develop it in the future.  I will have to remain vigilant to the signs and symptoms of DVT for the rest of my life.

There are many factors that can increase risk of developing deep vein thrombosis: sitting for long periods of time in a plane or car, inherited blood clotting disorders, prolonged bed rest, injuries or surgery, and hormone replacement therapies or birth control pills. Recently, tennis star Serena Williams had a close call with a pulmonary embolism caused by DVT. But it’s not just women who are affected. You may remember NBC journalist David Bloom died of a pulmonary embolism in 2003 while covering the war in Iraq. 

Deep vein thrombosis affects people of every age, too.

The symptoms of DVT are swelling of the affected leg including the foot and ankle, redness, and warmth and pain in the affected leg.  Pain often starts in the calf like a “charley horse.”  PE symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pain, cough, and rapid or irregular heartbeat. 

If you show any of the symptoms of DVT or PE get to your doctor immediately – the key is quick treatment.  Listen to your body and if you have any of the risk factors I previously mentioned, listen extra hard.

Mandy Ottman lives outside Rock Port, Missouri.

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