Common ailments

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)

I’m a 47 year old male and a few days ago I woke up with a heavy aching feeling in my left calf which has become much worse since then. My leg is now also quite swollen and I’ve developed what appears to be a large varicose vein on my calf.

My job involves driving up to 6 hours per day and I’ve heard this can cause blood clots. Is it possible that I’ve developed a blood clot in my leg and should I be worried about it?

A blood clot that forms in one of the deep veins in your legs or pelvis is known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT).  We are all at risk of developing DVT if we do something that slows down the blood flow in the veins of our legs. This is because blood tends to clot when it isn’t moving. When we walk, our leg muscles squeeze the veins and keep the circulation going.

DVT can cause pain and swelling in the leg and can lead to complications such as pulmonary embolism (where a piece of blood clot breaks off into the bloodstream and blocks one of the blood vessels in the lungs).

Although anyone can develop DVT, it becomes more common with age. There are also some risk factors that can make certain people more prone to developing the condition.  These include a family history of blood clots, medical conditions such as cancer and heart failure, being overweight and inactivity, for example after an operation.

If you think you may have developed a blood clot, you should visit your GP as soon as possible - the same day if you can. If your GP diagnoses DVT, then treatment will probably involve taking an anticoagulant medicine, such as warfarin, which helps reduce the ability of blood to clot. It is likely that you will also be advised to wear below-knee compression stockings under your clothing every day to help improve your symptoms and prevent future complications. These keep blood flowing by gently squeezing the legs and moving blood back to the heart.

There are several things you can do to help prevent DVT occurring, such as to stop smoking, losing weight and walking regularly to improve the circulation in your legs. In the meantime, it is important that you take regular breaks during long periods of driving. Aim to get out of your car at least once an hour to stretch your arms and legs, and take a short walk where possible.

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