Be proactive about blood clots

Frequently, we feel that we’re busy, active, on-the-go people, when in reality our cars are the ones playing, our bodies are the ones paying, the price, that is, for sedentary lifestyles.

If you think about it, people are rushing to the store, to work, to our kids’ ballets and ballgames. Even a huge percentage of the people who get out on the golf course don’t walk it, but sit in electric carts! 

If you’re “running” to work, instead of really…running, you may be giving life to more than “just” high stress, blood pressure, and enlarged waistlines, you might be breathing life into such dangerous conditions as deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism (PE).

March is DVT Awareness Month, and while cancer is the blame disease du jour when people think of worst case scenarios, it can be eclipsed in danger by DVT, in part because it mimics other illnesses and does not get the same amount of mainstream warnings.  In reality, DVT/PE kills more Americans each year than breast cancer and AIDS combined!

Let’s bring DVT/PE down to layman’s terms: blood clots. It’s easy enough to picture a clot moving dangerously towards the lungs and heart, but just as easy to put off dealing with it until later…too much later. 

Dr. Robert Handley and his wife, Katherine Handley, who is an RN and Practicing Manager, operate the Flower Mound Vein Center on FM 2499 in between FM 1171 and College Parkway. 

While Dr. Handley now specializes in treating varicose and spider veins, if you click on their website, you’ll see his myriad of titles and experience working with these more devastating afflictions, all falling under the umbrella of the phlebology field.  For starters, he is a Diplomat on the American Board of Phlebology.

Dr. Handley gives us some clues about what to look for.

“One may experience a sudden leg swelling in the calf.  Left untreated, it can travel up to and through the thighs.  Should a section break off, forming a PE, it can travel upwards to the lungs and heart.”

We can somewhat suppress diabetes by watching our diets and getting exercise; we can lessen cancer risks by not smoking, having mammograms and…well, those fun prostate exams.  But, DVT/PE can sneak up on you.  They’re not top of mind and don’t receive the constant warnings that some other diseases properly scare people into heeding.

Pat Bump of Flower Mound is glad that he did pay attention to the threat of DVT.

“I had suffered from swollen leg issues in the past,” Bump reflects.  “Dr. Handley wanted to examine me.  At first, the problem wasn’t evident, but the very next day I knew that something was wrong.  Dr. Handley had me admitted to Presbyterian Hospital of Flower Mound immediately.

“I was treated with a vena cava filter below my heart that very afternoon.  A catheter was inserted into my leg, and I was administered clot dissolving medicine.  Eventually, I ended up spending three days lying on my stomach as part of the procedure.  It worked and my condition has cleared up 100%.  It could have ended up much differently!”

Just what are the symptoms, you ask?  “Subtle abnormalities, such as shortness of breath and/or chest pains, without having exercised,” warns Dr. Handley.  “The biggest factors also include advancing age, recent surgeries, and sedentary lifestyles, including long car and plane rides,” adds Dr. Handley.

Appropriately, I was on a long American Airlines flight recently, and noted that in the company’s in flight American Way magazine, there is a primer on avoiding DVT/PE.  Perhaps nowhere are our legs more constricted than when underneath the seat in front of us, often swaddled with a jacket or wedged in with a carry-on bag. 

Other risk factors include smoking, having a family history of the disease, oral contraceptive use, hormone therapy and even pregnancy– which might alter the opinion that DVT affects only older people – and people taking medications that affect blood flow.

Dr. Handley warns, “Some 300 to 600 thousand people in the U.S. alone are affected by DVT/PE each year, with 200 to 300 thousand related PE deaths each year.  It’s the number one cause of unexpected death.  Two out of three could be prevented, and 30 percent of the people who suffer a related event will die within 30 days!  Over the following ten years, 30 percent will have a recurrence.”

He adds that, “This is the leading cause of unilateral death for women shortly after giving birth.” 

Even going to the hospital doesn’t mean you’ll be safe, as Dr. Handley expounds, “Thirty percent of intensive care patients will develop PEs.”

Dr. Handley explains that many patients are treated with blood thinners or compression socks, designed to aid with support and blood flow.  However, while many people are prevented from taking blood thinners for numerous other reasons, those who can, should combine both therapies for six months to one year. 

Obviously, this is a huge field of study that gets far too little publicity, and we can’t go into greater detail, here.  But, if you have any reason — such as swelling of the lower legs – to think you might be a potential sufferer of DVT/PE, get to a specialist who can help you to be a survivor…rather than a statistic.

For more information on March’s DVT Awareness Month of if you’d like to know more about Dr. Handley’s practice, you can log onto his website or call 972-410-5757.    

But, if you’re suspecting that you or someone you know may be at risk, don’t spend days and months reading this to try to convince yourself one way or the other.  Get checked out as quickly as you can.  Remember, your blood is on the job 24 hours a day.

John LaVine can be contacted at [email protected]


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