What do varicose veins and COVID-19 have in common?
They both put you at risk of developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT)., a condition where a blood clot forms deep within a vein, usually in the legs, but sometimes in the arms.
If that clot breaks off, it can travel through the bloodstream, blocking the flow of nourishing blood to organs like the kidneys, and causing heart attack and stroke.
Often, a clot will travel to the lungs and cause a deadly pulmonary embolism, a blood clot that lodges in a pulmonary artery in one of the lungs.
There have been frequent reports of DVT in the legs showing up after someone has recovered from COVID-19.
But now, for the first time, we’re seeing that COVID-19 can trigger a re-occurrence of blood clotting in the upper arm as well.
Blood clots in the arms are not as rare as we thought
Researchers at Rutgers University’s Robert Wood Johnson Medical School are reporting the first instance of COVID-19 triggering a rare recurrence of potentially serious blood clots in people’s arms.
A team of Rutgers scientists made this discovery while studying a group of patients who were admitted to the Robert Wood Johnson Hospital during the first wave of the pandemic, from March through May of 2020.
The purpose of the study was to try and make connections between presenting symptoms and COVID-19 infection.
In the case of one 85-year-old man, they hit the jackpot, learning about a connection that, while rare, can be deadly.
The man visited his primary care physician complaining of swelling in his left arm. His doctor sent him to the hospital for further testing, which revealed both an upper arm blood clot and an asymptomatic COVID-19 infection.
Only about ten percent of DVT blood clots occur in the arms, and of those cases, only 9 percent recur.
“… in thirty percent of these patients, the blood clot can travel to the lung and be possibly fatal,” said Dr. Payal Parikh, who co-led the study. “Other disabling complications include persistent swelling, pain and arm fatigue.”
Being vigilant about symptoms could save your life
According to Dr. Parikh, this study points to several important ways that both you and your doctor can take action to prevent serious complications, or possibly save your life.
- If you have unexplained swelling in your legs or arms, get tested for deep vein thrombosis AND for COVID-19.
- If you test positive for COVID-19, seek medical attention IMMEDIATELY if you experience shortness of breath (a sign of declining oxygen levels) or any unexplained swelling.
“If you have been previously diagnosed with deep vein thrombosis or have chronic medical illness that predisposes you to blood clots, you have a higher risk for recurrence of a deep vein thrombosis in the setting of a COVID-19 infection and thus, should be vigilant,” says Dr. Parikh.
The single most important way to avoid a blood clot
Researchers from the Medical University of Vienna have confirmed it: Physical activity alone can decrease your risk of thrombosis and the complications that come with it. They even found that if you already suffer from thrombosis, a bit of exercise can turn your blood clot risk around quickly.
In this study, women who had blood platelet function that was indicative of blood clot risk were able to restore healthy platelet function by running for 40 minutes three times per week over the course of two months.
If you’re unable to run, do whatever else you can to keep your body in motion, including walking a few times a day, taking the stairs or jogging in place while watching your favorite TV shows.
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