Know if you have a family history of DVT
As the number of your close relatives who’ve had a clot rises, so does your own DVT risk, found a study published in 2016 in PLoS One. “If you have a strong family history, your doctor may think twice about prescribing hormones or may give a longer course of anticlotting drugs after surgery,” says Dr. Zöller.
Decrease pressure in the veins through weight loss
Obesity can more than double DVT risk, especially in women over five foot six and men six feet or taller, according to a 2017 study published in Circulation: Genomic and Precision Medicine. “Tall people have to pump blood farther against the force of gravity, which may reduce flow in the legs and raise the risk of clotting,” says Sigrid Brækkan, PhD, a researcher and professor in the department of clinical medicine at the Arctic University of Norway. Theobald, who is five foot seven, weighed near her heaviest, at 190 pounds, when her clot occurred.
Walking, or raising and lowering your heels while sitting, engages your calf muscles, squeezing veins and propelling blood upward, which helps prevent DVT. Immobility is why long flights are a risk. Get up once every few hours and raise and lower your heels or rotate your ankles when seated. If you’re at high risk, ask your doctor about wearing compression stockings or taking preventive blood-thinning medication for flights or car trips of more than four hours, suggests the CDC.
Consume more fish
In a study in the Journal of Nutrition, people who took fish oil capsules and ate fish three or more times a week had a 48 percent lower chance of developing DVT than those who ate fish less often and didn’t supplement with fish oil.
Be proactive about DVT prevention during a hospitalization
Most hospital patients are at risk of DVT. The risk is 10 to 20 percent among general medical patients (general anesthesia temporarily widens veins, which can allow blood to pool and clot) and 40 to 80 percent in those who’ve had hip surgery, knee surgery, or any major trauma—this can damage veins and slow blood flow, increasing your risk.
If you have a hospital stay coming up, make sure doctors know about your medications and any DVT risks, such as a history of DVT in your family. The hospital staff will encourage you to move around, and your doctor may recommend compression stockings or anti-clotting drugs. Also, follow medical advice before and after your discharge. Missed doses of preventive drugs are to blame for many clots.
Theobald, for one, is diligent about taking anti-clotting meds because she knows that DVTs can return with a vengeance. Five months after her initial 13-day hospital stay, doctors weaned her off the blood thinner warfarin, but a new clot formed months later, enlarging her leg to almost the size of her waist. The resulting 10-day hospital stint brought new tortures, including shots of clot-busting drugs into the affected thigh that Theobald’s doctor likened to a Roto-Rootering of her veins.
Now she’s committed to taking warfarin—or whatever easier treatment comes along—for the rest of her life. And she wears compression stockings when sitting for long periods. But that’s not to say she leads a sedentary life. Since her DVT scare, she’s begun competing in triathlons.