blood clot had traveled to his lungs, becoming a
pulmonary embolism (PE). Together, DVTs and PEs
are called venous thromboembolism, a dangerous and
potentially deadly medical condition.
VTE is a leading cause of death and disability
worldwide. In the United States, there are 100,000 to
300,000 VTE-related deaths each year. Up to 60 percent
of VTE cases occur during or after hospitalization, making
it a leading preventable cause of hospital death.
But awareness about the risks of thrombosis remains low.
“It’s the third-leading vascular disease after heart
disease and stroke, but many people have never heard of
it,” said Mary Cushman, M.D., Director of the Thrombosis
and Hemostasis Program at the Robert Larner, M.D.,
College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.
Having surgery, an extended stay in a hospital or
being unable to move for a long time, due to bed rest or
long-duration travel pose the highest risks for VTEs. But
Osborne hadn’t realized that his knee injury, along with his
age and the fact that his father had a DVT increased his risk.
“Having a family history of a DVT or PE can basically
double your risk,” Cushman said.
Patients undergoing chemotherapy or other treatment
for cancer, those who are obese or those using estrogen-based medication, such as contraceptives or hormone-replacement therapy also have increased risks.
Recognizing the signs of a VTE can be difficult
because they are often subtle or mistaken for other
conditions, Cushman said.
“A pulmonary embolism can be as dramatic as a
sudden onset of chest pain or an inability to breath, but if
someone has mild shortness of breath, it might be passed
off as an infection,” she said.
For athletes, injuries to the leg, even minor ones such
as ankle sprains, can pose risks for developing blood
clots, and having more than one factor compounds the
risk, Cushman said.
Once you’ve been diagnosed with a DVT or PE,
keeping close communication with your medical provider,
especially during the first few weeks, to ensure you’re
taking your medication correctly, Cushman said.
“If you don’t understand that you can’t miss a dose
of medication or don’t take your medication correctly,
it can have life-threatening implications,” she said. “Pay
attention to any symptoms you may be having and follow-
up with your doctor if anything is wrong.”
Osborne has kept in close contact with his medical
providers, and is paying closer attention to any changes
in his own health. Each morning, he does a body scan,
paying careful attention to any swelling or color changes
in his legs. While he hasn’t yet returned to intense
training, he gets up at least once an hour to walk around,
and keep his legs elevated when sitting down.
Osborne is already planning to compete in next year’s
Leadville race, but he’ll make several changes to his
training and how he schedules his travel, including taking
more breaks to walk around and paying more attention to
any changes in his body.
“I won’t power through unexpected pain anymore,” he
said. “It’s important you watch every detail.”
Source: American Heart Association News
Learn more about VTE, DVT and PE in Risk in the Veins in this
Heart Insight Special Topic Supplement.
VTE is a leading
cause of death
many people have
never heard of it.
DVT survivor and mountain biker Sam Osborne training at home