Why Deep Vein Thrombosis May Be More Common in the Elderly
With March being Deep-Vein Thrombosis Awareness Month, it’s a good time to take a closer look at this condition that is more common in seniors. While deep-vein thrombosis (DVT) can affect anyone of any age, adults over the age of 60 have a higher risk of developing this condition. Many of our patients in hospice in Alameda County and elsewhere suffer from DVT. This is when blood clots begin to form in a deep vein of the body, such as an arm or leg, pieces of which can break off and head to major organs, says The Caregiver Space. These rogue clots can block blood vessels in the lung, for example, resulting in a pulmonary embolism, a serious life-threatening condition.
As a caregiver for a senior loved one, it’s important to know the warning signs of deep vein thrombosis and what to do about it. There are ways to lower the risk of developing DVT, despite age being a big factor, such as certain lifestyle changes. Reduced physical mobility is also a major factor in developing the condition. Other common illnesses in the elderly include congestive heart failure, acute infection, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and atherosclerotic vascular disease — all of which increase the risk of DVT, according to Sage Journals.
DVT Risk Factors and Symptoms
Deep vein thrombosis causes leg pain or swelling, but it’s also possible to present with no symptoms at all. According to Healthline, common symptoms include:
- Swollen feet, ankles, or legs, usually confined to one side
- Cramps in the calf
- Severe pain in the foot or ankle
- One area of skin that feels warmer than the skin that surrounds it
- One area of skin that turns red or blue, or gets paler.
Elderly people can experience DVT if they have certain medical conditions that impact how their blood clots. As we said above, blood clots can form in the legs due to immobility, such as when a person is on bed rest in hospice or as a result of accident or surgery. Prolonged bed rest is the most common cause of DVT in the elderly, but there are certainly other risk factors to be aware of as well.
Most common in those over the age of 50, especially older seniors, deep vein thrombosis is common in those who:
- Have a family history
- Are overweight
- Have a catheter in a vein
- Have a deep vein injury
- Have recently undergone surgery
- Are getting hormone therapy
- Are immobile for long periods of time
- Have received a recent fracture to the hips, pelvis, or lower extremities
- Have cancer, heart failure, or inflammatory bowel disease
Knowing the risk factors will help you and your senior loved one avoid DVT.
Warning signs of a pulmonary embolism include:
- Shortness of breath that comes on suddenly
- Chest pain or discomfort that gets worse when taking a deep breath or coughing
- Fainting or feeling lightheaded
- Rapid pulse and breathing
- Coughing up blood
If you or a loved one experiences these symptoms at any time, seek emergency medical attention.
How to Prevent DVT
There are some lifestyle changes you can take or encourage your loved one to take, such as:
- Visiting the doctor for regular checkups
- Keep up a healthy weight
- Stay as active as possible
- Refrain from smoking
- Avoid lying down or sitting for long periods of time
- Keep hydrated
It’s important to keep as active as possible, which can be tough when in hospice and you just don’t feel well. However, DVT isn’t nicknamed the “sitting disease” for nothing. A sedentary lifestyle is unhealthy no matter what age you are, but it’s even more of a threat to the elderly, as they typically lose strength and mobility as they get older. It can also be more difficult for seniors, especially those facing hospice, to get up and moving on a regular basis. This lack of activity causes reduced blood flow through the body and boosts the risk of DVT.
Plus, being overweight is another risk factor for DVT, and many seniors — again, due to that lack of mobility — gain weight as they age. Those extra pounds put pressure on the leg and pelvic veins, increasing risk as well. Add in the prevalence of falls in the elderly and you have a trifecta of concerning risk factors for deep vein thrombosis. Falls are a top cause of injury in seniors, leading to surgery and bed rest for long periods of time. When you spend a lot of time off your feet, the calf muscles can’t properly circulate blood, adding to the overall risk for DVT.
Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice
We would be happy to give you more information about our hospice program, as well as outline our efforts to manage deep vein thrombosis in the elderly under our care. Contact us today at 888-978-1306.