Multiple Sclerosis and the Risk of Blood Clots

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A recent study shows that patients with multiple sclerosis are more than twice as likely to develop venous thromboembolism—the condition comprising deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism—compared to patients who don’t suffer from the disease.

Venous thromboembolism (VTE) is when a blood clot that has typically formed in the deep veins of the leg breaks off and blocks the blood vessels of the lungs. This in turn blocks the flow of oxygen to the blood and can result in chest pain, shortness of breath, and in some cases, sudden death.

The study, conducted at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, followed 5,566 people with MS and compared them to 33,370 people not diagnosed with MS. Each MS patient was matched to six people in the control group by sex, age, and the medical facility where they received treatment.

Researchers found that the participants with MS were 2.6 times more likely to develop VTE than their control group counterparts. VTE was also more likely if the patient had had a prior history of VTE, was obese, or experienced major trauma. People with MS who experienced spasticity (stiffness of the body and a range of muscle spasms), had trouble moving, or were on certain steroids were also more likely to develop VTE.

Know the symptoms

Since patients with MS experience increased risk of VTE, it’s critical that they learn to recognize the symptoms. The quicker you can identify symptoms and seek medical attention, the more likely you’ll be to head off the risks of long-term or life-threatening complications.

The first step is to look for signs of deep vein thrombosis, which include swelling of the leg, irritation of the affected site, redness of the skin or skin that is warm to the touch. If your condition has advanced to a pulmonary embolism, monitor for sudden shortness of breath or trouble breathing during physical activity. You may also experience a bloody cough, rapid heartbeat, and dizziness.

Talk to your doctor immediately if you experience any of these symptoms.

Preventing VTE in patients with MS

Staying active is critical to good circulation and preventing VTE. That can be difficult depending on a patient’s MS symptoms and the range of motion available to them.

In addition to eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and not smoking, patients should talk to their doctors, neurologist, and physical therapy team to learn the best ways to stay active. Find out what activities match your physical limitations and are safest for you.