Obesity is related to a variety of chronic diseases including heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer. But being overweight or obese doubles your risk of developing another condition—deep vein thrombosis (DVT), or blood clots. If these clots move into your lungs, they cause pulmonary embolism (PE), which claims more lives in the United States every year than breast cancer and AIDS combined. You’re probably thinking that won’t happen to me, and I thought the same thing until I was stuck in a hospital for nine days—without any dramatic warning.
It began with pain in my left calf, which I thought was just a bad charley horse. I couldn’t remember hurting myself, so for five days I iced my leg, popped a few ibuprofen, and kept up my morning 3-mile walks, thinking I could work the pain out.
I Googled my symptoms online but completely denied the diagnosis. Deep vein thrombosis? No way! I walk almost every day—I’m only 40! Sure, I was using hormonal birth control, but who thinks the fine print–warning about blood clots will ever apply to them? Even worse, at the end of the week, I got on a plane and flew halfway across the country, hobbling on my sore leg through three airports.
One morning the pain in my calf got worse, and, mysteriously, my thigh started hurting. A trip to the nearest emergency room, an ultrasound of my left leg, and a CT scan of my chest confirmed I had a blood clot in my calf, one in my thigh, and some small blood clots in my lungs. The cause? My birth control and my weight.
I’m lucky—my clot hurt. But many people don’t know they have DVT until the blood clots move into their lungs and make it hard to breathe.
If I’d waited a day or two longer, the clot in my thigh would have moved and blocked my pulmonary artery. It could have killed me.
Now, with a newly developed fear of flying, I’ve also made a few lifestyle changes. I take aspirin every day to prevent future clots and have stopped taking hormonal birth control. The convenience I was trying to add to my life has now made things complicated! I’m sensitive to nonoxynol-9, the chemical found in latex condoms and spermicides. Left with only a few options, I’m now using lambskin condoms. But reliable birth control is more important than ever. The chances of developing blood clots increase during pregnancy, and a woman with a history of DVT will need anticoagulants throughout her pregnancy and afterward.
So let me be your example—in fact, let’s be examples for each other. March is National DVT Awareness Month, and March 10 is National DVT Screening Day. Check your risk online, and learn more from the Coalition to Prevent Deep Vein Thrombosis at www.preventdvt.org. Have you had a health scare or condition you think other people should be aware of?