The longer you are in surgery, the more your risk goes up for developing dangerous blood clots in the deep veins of your legs, called a deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
Risks of DVTs with surgery
Any surgery or lengthy recovery period that requires bed rest increases the risk of developing deep vein thrombosis. Long periods of time without moving around promote clotting, and blood clots can form a DVT.
The longer an operation, the greater the risk of forming a DVT. Even the type of anesthesia used during the surgery can be a factor. Studies have shown that spinal and epidural anesthesia are less likely to contribute to blood clot formation than general anesthesia.
Patients who are less than 40 years old and have no additional risk factors have a low risk of developing DVTs during a minor surgery.
For every 10-year increment in age, the risk of DVT doubles. Thus, patients who are between 40 and 60 years old have a moderate risk, and patients over 60 years old have a high risk of developing DVTs during a minor surgery, even when they have no additional risk factors.
The additional risk factors that can put patients at a higher risk for DVTs include malignancy, obesity, Type A blood group, hypercoagulation blood disorder, spinal-medullary trauma, and multiple trauma. Major orthopedic surgeries also pose a special risk because traction and plaster casts can dramatically reduce mobility.
DVTs can cause pulmonary embolism
DVTs are potentially life-threatening because if parts of a clot dislodge, they can travel to the lungs and suddenly block a major artery. If the clot is large enough to stop blood flow, it can cause death.
There are about 300,000 cases of pulmonary embolism each year in the United Stated, causing around 50,000 deaths annually. Research shows that at least 90 percent of pulmonary embolism cases originate in the deep veins of the legs.
Surgery puts you at a higher risk for pulmonary embolism (PE) for up to a month and is one of the most significant risk factors for PE, along with prolonged immobilization and trauma.
Research shows that 73 percent of pulmonary embolisms are not clinically diagnosed, because the signs and symptoms can be general, like problems breathing or chest pain, or altogether absent. Some people who have DVTs may complain of calf pain or thigh pain, and may have swelling in the legs.
What you can do
Before surgery, talk with your surgeon and anesthesiologist about the risk of DVT formation.
Ask what risk factors you have for DVT formation.
Ask about the length of time that the surgeon thinks you will be in the operating room. If you are having multiple procedures that will lead to being in surgery for a long time, ask if it might be possible to split the procedures into two or more surgeries on different dates.
Ask if general anesthesia is really necessary, or if there is another option.
Discuss what type of DVT prevention tools that the surgical team plans to employ. Surgeons will frequently order compression stockings for your legs, which promote blood flow, and the medication heparin to prevent blood clotting.
After surgery, make sure to get and follow clear instruction from your surgeon and medical team. Experts say that one of the best things a patient can do is get up and walk around as soon as possible after a surgery. Make sure to ask your surgeon about that.
In the course of the month following surgery, pay attention to anything usual that you feel in your legs. Does one leg feel warmer, seem more swollen, have increased pain while standing or walking, or have a different color than the other leg? If so, inform your doctor immediately. The same is true if you experience chest pain or shortness of breath.
We are here to help
If you or someone you care for has been injured because of a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or pulmonary embolism (PE), call the knowledgeable medical malpractice attorneys at Painter Law Firm, at 281-580-8800, for a free consultation.