Every drummer, and anyone else who sits for extended periods of time, is at risk of developing blood clots in the legs, or a deep vein thrombosis (DVT). A DVT, as the name suggests, usually develops in a deep vein in the leg but it can also occur in other parts of the body, such as the arm after an injury.
Blood clot development is a normal process that protects the body against losing blood. However, when the blood clots inside a blood vessel, as with a DVT, dangerous complications can develop, such as a damaged vein or interrupted blood flow.
There are several risk factors for developing a DVT. Especially at risk are those over age 40, those claiming a personal or family history of DVT, or those suffering from immobility, obesity, or cancer. Also at risk are those who have experienced recent lower extremity surgery or injury, pregnancy, have recently given birth, received hormone replacement therapy, treatment for cardiovascular problems, or those taking contraceptives. There is also evidence that extended travel (trips lasting four hours or more) may increase your risk of developing DVT because of prolonged immobility.
Diagnostic tests such as a Doppler ultrasound scan can evaluate blockages of blood flow in blood vessels. A venogram is another more invasive method, which uses X-rays to track blood flow by registering the progress of a dye injected into the veins.
In the majority of DVT cases, the clots are small and are not symptomatic. Our body is usually able to gradually break down the clot without causing long-term effects. But when larger clots develop, partial or total blockage of the blood flow in the vein occurs, causing symptoms such as swelling and pain in the calf, which is exacerbated by standing or walking. Although these symptoms are not always signs of a DVT, you should seek medical attention if they last for more than 24 hours.
One potential complication from a DVT that can be life threatening is a pulmonary embolism (PE). PE occurs when a piece of a blood clot breaks off and travels through the bloodstream, eventually lodging in the lungs and blocking the flow of blood. This can develop hours or even days after the formation of a clot in the calf veins. A pulmonary embolism may cause chest pain and shortness of breath, and requires immediate emergency medical treatment, since a pulmonary embolism can be fatal in severe cases.
Treatment of DVT is aimed at preventing the formation of new clots, a clot from becoming larger, or a clot from breaking loose and traveling to the lungs. Anticoagulant medicines are the most common treatment for DVT. Anticoagulants can stop new blood clots from forming and old ones from growing in size. They are not able to dissolve existing clots; although the body can usually do this itself over time. You should not perform any activities that could increase your risk of injury when taking anticoagulants. Since anticoagulants interfere with blood clotting, they may cause uncontrollable bleeding after even a small injury. Compression stockings are also sometimes recommended to relieve swelling. These may need to be worn for extended periods of time.
Any measures you can take to reduce the risk of DVT, including keeping mobile by exercising your legs regularly, is extremely important, especially if you feel you are at high risk of developing a DVT. If you develop swelling or pain in your leg and later develop breathing problems, you should seek medical advice immediately.