Deep vein thrombosis is a high risk condition affecting the veins—most often in the lower leg. If you suspect you have deep vein thrombosis, it is important to seek medical care for treatment options. This condition may become more common in gamers due to prolonged periods of time sitting.
Deep vein thrombosis is clot formation in the deep veins—most commonly in the lower leg. This may occur in gamers due to the lack of movement during long sessions of gaming and/or streaming. The lack of movement can cause the blood flow in the legs to become stagnant, and stagnation triggers the formation of clotting.
If a clot (called a thrombus) forms in the deep veins of the lower leg, the clot could eventually break free. This is a severe health risk. If this occurs, the embolus (free floating clot fragment) will go through the vascular system, through the heart, and eventually may become lodged in the lungs. This condition is known as a pulmonary embolism and is a medical emergency!
It is important to know some basic anatomy of the vascular system to better understand deep vein thrombosis.
To begin, the word thrombosis is defined as a “local coagulation or clotting of the blood in a part of the circulatory system.” In deep vein thrombosis, this coagulation or clot formation will occur in the veins deep to your body—as opposed to the veins closer to the surface of your skin, known as superficial veins.
A deep vein thrombosis could happen in the upper or lower extremities (arms or legs), but the risk attributed to prolonged sitting (as seen in gaming) are less likely to affect the upper extremity. Therefore, we will focus on deep vein thrombosis in the lower extremity.
In the legs, the veins most commonly affected are:
From the lowest vein in your foot all the way back to your heart, the blood vessels continue to become larger in diameter. Thus, a thrombus (clot) breaking off (becoming an embolus) will have no resistance from its break point all the way into the chambers of the heart.
From the heart chambers, the embolus will enter the pulmonary artery—a large vessel from the heart to the lungs. The arterial system from the heart to the lungs rapidly becomes smaller in diameter until it reaches capillaries within the lung tissue.
The embolus may become lodged in these smaller diameter vessels, known as a pulmonary embolism. This is a medical emergency! Pulmonary embolism will symptoms are listed below.
Deep vein thrombosis occurs in otherwise healthy individuals when blood flow becomes stagnant or turbulent. Most often, this will occur due to lack of physical activity—as in prolonged sitting during gaming/streaming sessions.
The veins in your legs—particularly those furthest away from the heart—will not have enough pressure from your beating heart to move the blood upwards against gravity back towards your heart.
Instead, these veins are often positioned between large muscles. When these muscles contract, they becomes larger in diameter and press on the adjacent veins.
Veins also have a valve system to prevent back flow. These valves have a unidirectional opening back towards the heart, and resistance backwards causes the valves to close. Thus, the valve system along with muscle contraction provides venous blood flow back to the heart.
If there is a deep vein thrombosis developing in your leg, you may notice the following signs & symptoms:
Note: it is possible, but unlikely, to develop a deep vein thrombosis in both legs at the same time. Most often, these symptoms will present on one side in comparison to the other.
If you experience the following symptoms, call 9-1-1 or seek immediate medical attention as this may be a life threatening situation:
For gamers, deep vein thrombosis will most likely occur due to prolonged sitting and lack of physical activity—specifically, a lack of weight of bearing activity that requires contraction of the calf and thigh muscles.
An additional factor that may increase the likelihood of developing a deep vein thrombosis is increased systemic inflammation (read more about harmful inflammation here). Chronic, low grade inflammation increases the risk of plaque build-up and stenosis in your arteries and veins.
These mechanisms are specific to gamers absent of blood clotting disorders or other pre-existing cardiovascular conditions. It is important to schedule an annual physical (wellness check-up) with your doctor to screen for these types of pre-existing conditions.
Absent of pre-existing blood or cardiovascular disorders, the most common mechanisms of injury for deep vein thrombosis are physical inactivity and chronic, low grade inflammation.
Therefore, prevention is quite simple—physical activity and appropriate lifestyle choices. Performing simple movements routinely during gaming sessions and exercising regularly will significantly reduce your risk.
Additionally, lifestyle factors that decrease the risk for deep vein thrombosis include eating a healthy diet and not smoking cigarettes.
If you are experiencing the symptoms listed above, a deep vein thrombosis can be confirmed with an ultrasound. Most often, this will be the first screening test due to its accuracy, safety, ease of use, and cost-effectiveness. Once confirmed, you should speak with your doctor about treatment options.
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