MAYWOOD, Ill. -- Tracey Gladson of Melrose Park wasn't unduly alarmed when she developed discomfort and swelling in her left leg. She dismissed it as a normal reaction to the surgery she recently had.
"It felt like cramps, that's all," said Gladson, a wife and mother of two sons.
However, a Loyola University Health System home care nurse suspected it was something more serious. She immediately had Gladson go to Loyola's emergency department where physicians discovered she had a deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a blood clot that is potentially deadly.
"You wouldn't assume it would happen to someone my age," said the 37-year-old Gladson. "Most people don't think that way. They think it only happens to the elderly, but it happened to me."
Each year in the United States about 12 million people develop DVT. However, the condition is largely unknown to the public, according to Dr. Thomas Esposito, professor of surgery and chief of the division of trauma, surgical critical care and burns in the department of surgery, Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine in Maywood.
"Certain individuals are at increased risk for developing DVT but they can and do occur in almost anyone of any age," said Esposito, who diagnosed and treated Gladson's condition.
Identifying and treating at-risk patients is critical in the fight against DTV, said Dr. John Santaniello, associate professor of surgery, trauma, surgical critical care and burns, Stritch School of Medicine. Santaniello is also medical director of Loyola’s intensive care unit.
"We're working hard, especially in the emergency medical community, to raise awareness about this potentially fatal, though highly preventable and treatable condition," said Santaniello, who leads Loyola's surgery department's efforts to prevent DVT in patients who have undergone surgery, one of the biggest at-risk groups.
DVT occurs when a blood clot forms in one of the large veins, usually in the legs, leading to either a partially or completely blocked circulation. Sometimes a clot can break off, travel through the bloodstream and obstruct vessels in the lungs, damaging tissue and restricting the flow of blood and oxygen to the body. This condition is known as a pulmonary embolism.
"About 600,000 people are hospitalized each year from DVT and its primary complication, pulmonary embolisms," Esposito said. "Complications from DVT kill more people each year than breast cancer, AIDS and motor vehicle crashes combined."
DVT most commonly occurs either during a hospitalization or within a few weeks after one. Immobility of a limb after a fracture or joint surgery is also a risk factor, Santaniello said. However it is also often seen in people after prolonged periods of sitting stationary such as on long airplane trips or car rides.
Symptoms include leg pain, swelling, tenderness, discoloration or redness of the affected area. The skin may also be warm to the touch. More serious symptoms, which require prompt medical aid, include unexplained shortness of breath, chest pain or palpitations, excessive anxiety and sweating or coughing up blood. However, DVT may have no symptoms at all.
Blood thinners are commonly used to reduce the risk of and treat DVT. With early treatment, patients with DVT may reduce their chances of developing pulmonary embolisms to less than 1 percent. Also, being active and drinking an adequate amount of fluids can lessen risks.
Some of the factors that may increase the risk of DVT include congestive heart failure, cancer, infection, restricted mobility, chronic lung disease, smoking and varicose veins. Obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, age, a prior history DVT or pulmonary embolisms and recent surgery may also increase risk.
"DVT Awareness Month may happen only in March, but it's possible to protect yourself year round by knowing the risk factors and the preventive measures," Esposito said. "What's equally important is to follow your doctor's instructions and take any and all medications exactly as prescribed."
Photos, graphics, and interviews with DVT patients, Esposito and Santaniello are available. To schedule, contact Perry Drake in the media relations division of Loyola at (708) 216-7940, on his cell phone at (708) 441-7736 or call (708) 216-9000 and have him paged.