Fifty-three-year-old Bernie McKay never would have guessed that the pain he thought was a simple muscle cramp was actually a serious medical condition that could have stopped him in his tracks forever.
Bernie, who leads an active lifestyle and works in a hospital, experienced severe cramping in the back of his left thigh one morning while walking into work. The pain became so severe that he rushed himself to the emergency department, knowing that something wasn’t right. After a series of consultations and tests, he was diagnosed as having deep vein thrombosis, or DVT.
DVT affects approximately 900,000 people in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and while a clot can form anywhere, it usually occurs in the legs or pelvis. Sometimes part of the blood clot can break off and travel to your lungs, which can cause a pulmonary embolism, a serious and potentially deadly condition.
Doctors typically diagnose DVT through tests such as an ultrasound or blood tests. First line of treatment can consist of medications and compression stockings, but these options don’t actually remove or dissolve the clot. Many DVT blood clots can be absorbed by the body over time with the help of blood thinners; however, as long as the clot is present, it can cause permanent damage to the valves in the vein, leading to chronic pain and swelling called post-thrombotic syndrome (PTS).
Another treatment option that physicians may consider for their patients is a medical procedure called a mechanical thrombectomy. This procedure can help quickly restore blood flow by removing the clot altogether, thus reducing the amount and duration of medications a patient needs to take, and may help prevent future complications.
“Recent medical advances are allowing more and more patients to have blood clots removed using minimally invasive procedures,” said Dr. Kush Desai, Northwestern Memorial Hospital. “Some patients, like Bernie, may be candidates for a mechanical thrombectomy, which uses a special catheter designed to help break up and physically remove all or portions of the clot.”
Only half of the people who develop DVT experience any symptoms, such as swelling, pain or tenderness in a leg with skin that’s warm and red or discolored. However, there are risk factors that you should be aware of as they can increase your chances of developing DVT:
• Treatment for cancer;
• Prolonged lack of movement such as long distance travel or long periods of bed rest;
• A personal or family history of blood clots;
• Older age;
Understanding the risk factors and being aware of various treatment options can help reduce your chance of developing a dangerous blood clot and the serious health complications that may be associated with it.
“With such a short recovery time, the procedure allowed me to spend time with my family and friends — without having to take medications for the rest of my life,” said Bernie. “I’m more active than I was before, and I couldn’t be happier with the outcome.”
There are risks associated with all medical procedures. Talk with your doctor about the risks and benefits associated with mechanical thrombectomy. For more information visit ClearingtheClot.com or the Clearing the Clot Facebook community, patient resources developed by Boston Scientific. For more information, visit bostonscientific.com.
Take control of your health to help decrease your chances of developing DVT by understanding the risks and treatment options available.