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VTE and Strokes: A Family Connection

By Jennifer Bradley, Staff Writer

 

Watch out, brothers and sisters—if a sibling has experienced blood clots, you may have a 50-fold increase in risk for the condition.

Researchers in Sweden are the first to link venous thromboembolism (VTE) and the risk in other family members in a nationwide setting, sorted by age and gender. They used a nationwide hospitalization registry to explore the influence of sibling history on these dangerous blood clots. This is a quick look at VTE, the sibling connection and some preventive tips for people of all ages.

What is VTE?

VTE consists of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), which occurs when blood clots form in the deep veins of legs or pelvis. VTE also encompasses pulmonary embolism, which is when the blood clot breaks away from the original location, travels to the lungs and blocks pulmonary arteries, becoming deadly.

It is the third most common cardiovascular illness, after stroke and heart attack, and affects one in 1,000 people every year. One-third of VTE cases also involve a pulmonary embolism.

There are three main factors necessary to maintain the correct thickness and flow of blood in the vessels. When one of these is disrupted, a blood clot is likely to occur.

The flow of blood – When blood flow within the veins is slowed or blocked, this allows more time for the blood to clot.

The vessel wall – The blood vessel wall lining must be intact. Damage to the wall (for example, from surgery or injury) hinders the flow of blood and may lead to the formation of a blood clot.
Blood composition – The body maintains an effective balance between processes that dissolve and form blood clots. If this balance is disturbed and there are too many blood-clotting factors present, this increases the tendency of the blood to clot.

The Sibling Connection

Depending on the number of children in a given family with the disorder, the risk is that much greater for other siblings. If one sibling has VTE, the risk is two times greater, but 50 times greater when two or more brothers or sisters have the same.

These hereditary factors are helpful in determining the risk of VTE in men and women between the ages of 10 and 69. Those families with a history of VTE have a strong genetic link to occurrences of the disorder in siblings.

In a person between the ages of 10 and 19, if a sibling does have VTE issues, the risk of developing it is nearly five times greater than in those without a sibling history of the disorder.  In the older population of ages 60 to 69, the risk is twice as much than when younger.

Women have a higher occurrence of VTE, especially between the ages of 10 to 40, when a sibling already has been diagnosed. The rate becomes higher for men over the age of 50.

The Swedish researchers found that most of the familial risk of increased VTE occurrence was from genetics, not environmental factors. This information is useful to medical professionals, especially when performing a procedure on someone who may have a higher risk of clotting due to a sibling’s history.

Prevention

There are a number of ways to help prevent VTE from occurring or limit the severity of the disorder:

  • Early mobilization after surgery
  • Sit with legs together rather than crossed
  • Keep mobile
  • Weight management
  • Quit smoking
  • Avoid tight clothing
  • Use of graduated compression stockings
  • Use of venous foot pumps, and
  • Use of blood-thinning drugs (usually anticoagulant drugs).

When faced with a chance of having VTE, the first thing is to confirm the diagnosis, then decide on treatment, as well as self-management. The Swedish may have found a familial connection, but there are healthy lifestyle tips anyone can implement to make the threat of blood clots less likely to occur in the first place.

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