Deep Vein Thrombosis: The Role of Ethnicity

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Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a condition whereby blood clots form in the deep veins of the body, typically in the legs or pelvis. This condition can turn deadly if the clot breaks free and travels to different organs throughout the body. When the clot travels into the arteries of the lungs, this is known as a pulmonary embolism.

There are a number of risk factors that contribute to the likelihood of developing DVT, including advanced age, trauma to limbs, surgery, immobilization due to illness or during travel, and certain hormonal factors (such as pregnancy and use of oral contraceptives).

Researchers have also focused on the link between DVT risk and race. Studies have found that certain ethnic groups are much more at risk for developing DVT than others; African Americans are at particular risk. One study by researchers at the University of California, Davis, found that African Americans have the highest incidence of venous thromboembolism, the condition that encompasses both DVT and pulmonary embolisms. Caucasian patients had the next-highest incidence rates, followed by Hispanics. Asians and Pacific Islanders have the lowest rates of DVT.

Doctors have yet to determine why race plays a role in DVT risk.

Preventing and Treating DVT

If you are part of a group that experiences high incidence rates of DVT, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk. However, it's important to note that DVT can happen to anyone, including otherwise healthy individuals. So even if you are in one of the groups that experiences lower rates of DVT, it's still important to learn to recognize the risk factors and know how to reduce them.

Take preventative measures, including following a good diet and getting exercise. If you are in a group that experiences high rates of DVT or you have any of the other risk factors for the condition, talk to your doctor and make a plan to prevent DVT. This is especially important if you are scheduled to have surgery or a prolonged hospital stay.

Your doctor may prescribe prophylaxis to prevent clots from forming, including medication and other treatments. Also, during a prolonged period of immobility, stay active to increase circulation. Do leg exercises like flexing your leg muscles, moving your feet back and forth heel-to-toe, or wearing compression socks.

Be vigilant and watch for signs of DVT, including swelling, redness, leg pain, and skin that is warm to the touch. If you notice these symptoms, talk to your doctor immediately and get treatment as quickly as possible to help head off the risk of long-term consequences.