Finding out you have deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or a pulmonary embolism (PE) is scary; these two conditions (together called venous thromboembolism or VTE) can be deadly if not caught in time. But with treatment VTE is quite manageable, and it shouldn't keep you from living your life just as you did before. Here are some tips for living with and managing VTE.
Boost Your Physical Activity
When you walk, bicycle, do yoga, or engage in any other physical activity, it boosts your circulation, which is key to preventing blood clots. Regular exercise also prevents swelling, one of the most uncomfortable effects of DVT. Then there's the benefit to your lungs, which is particularly important if you've suffered a pulmonary embolism. Of course, regular exercise can also help you lose weight, reducing your risk of future blood clots.
Sitting still for long periods of time isn't good for anyone, but it's particularly risky for those with DVT. If your work keeps you at a desk all day, schedule regular breaks every one to two hours -- it can help to set a timer. Get up and walk around the office or, even better, go up and down a flight of stairs. Or just do a few stretches before sitting back down. It's also important to stretch your feet and legs while you sit, by rotating your ankles and lifting your heels and toes up and down.
Know Your Blood Thinner
If, like most people with DVT, you're taking a blood thinner, it's important to know which one, how it works, and any risks associated with that medication. There is a wide variety of drugs used to treat VTE, and each works differently and has different risks. For example, warfarin (Coumadin, Jantoven), one of the oldest and most commonly prescribed blood thinners, requires regular blood tests to check your INR, a measure of how well the drug is working.
Be Careful About Alcohol Interactions With Blood Thinners
Alcohol reduces the effectiveness of some blood thinners, particularly warfarin. For this reason, doctors typically recommend limiting yourself to one to two drinks at a time; more than that may raise your INR. Studies have not shown any problems with alcohol if you're taking the blood thinners dabigatran (Pradaxa) or rivaroxaban (Xarelto).
Check for Medication Interactions
Blood thinners can be tricky drugs to take because they interact with so many other medications -- in warfarin's case, more than 240 of them! The most important of these are painkillers; blood thinners can have serious risks when mixed with aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol), and ibuprofen and other NSAIDs. But the list of potential interactions is long for all these drugs, so make sure your doctor knows all the medications you take -- including over-the-counter drugs and supplements -- and check that none can cause a problematic interaction.
Beware Vitamin K
Your liver uses vitamin K, present in many green and cruciferous vegetables, to make the proteins that cause blood clots, and warfarin works by interfering with this clotting action. Too much vitamin K keeps warfarin from working. This is why your doctor has probably told you to avoid having too much of certain foods rich in vitamin K. These include: • Chard • Kale • Brussels sprouts • Mustard and collard greens • Parsley • Green tea
In particular, many people seem unaware of the potential interaction between green tea and warfarin. If you typically drink a lot of green tea, discuss this with your doctor. Cranberry juice is another drink to avoid.
Take Precautions When You Travel
Flying can raise your risk for blood clots, as can bus, train, and car travel. That doesn't mean you have to stay at home -- just know what you need to do to travel safely with DVT, and be careful.