Deep Vein Thrombosis
What is deep vein thrombosis?
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot that develops in a deep vein. Usually, these clumps of solid blood product develop in the lower extremities. However, DVT can occur in other areas of the body, as well.
What causes venous thrombosis?
Clotting in a deep vein may occur for reasons such as:
- A complication of surgery. There is always a risk of blood vessel damage during a surgical procedure. The bed rest that occurs after surgery also presents a risk of DVT due to the lack of movement. For this reason, many patients are encouraged to walk as soon as possible after surgery. When bed rest is a must, special compression devices may be placed on the legs to keep blood moving properly through the veins.
- Sedentary lifestyle in which one sits frequently and for longer periods may encourage blood to pool in the legs. This can eventually lead to clot formation.
- Injury to the leg or other area could cause narrowing in a blood vessel or damage to the vessel wall that leads to a blood clot.
- Certain medications may also lead to a blood clot.
What are the symptoms of deep vein thrombosis?
One of the concerns about DVT is that only about half of the people who develop a deep blood clot will also develop symptoms. Indications that require prompt medical care include:
- A chronic or recurrent cramp in one leg, usually at the calf.
- Swelling in one foot, ankle, or leg.
- Severe pain in the ankle or foot that cannot be explained.
- Red or blue discoloration of the skin on one part of the leg.
- An area of skin feels warm to the touch compared to surrounding areas.
These same symptoms may occur in the neck, shoulder, arm, or hand if the blood clot has developed in the upper body.
Risk Factors for DVT
People over the age of 50 have the highest risk of DVT. However, this condition may occur at any age when contributing factors are present. These include:
- Family history of clotting disorders or DVT
- Severe injury that has caused vein damage
- Taking hormonal birth control or therapy
- Having a catheter in a vein
- Being overweight
- Sitting for a long period, especially repeatedly
- Heart failure and certain other medical conditions may increase the risk of clots
What are the complications of deep vein thrombosis?
The primary risk of deep vein thrombosis is the movement of the clot from an extremity to the lung. This is referred to as pulmonary embolism. The clot dislodges from its arm or leg and becomes stuck in a smaller artery in the lung. The blockage that results can be life-threatening and requires emergency care.
Signs of pulmonary embolism include:
- Rapid heart rate
- Chest pain that worsens with deep inhales or coughing
- Rapid breathing
- Coughing up blood
How do you prevent venous thrombosis?
One of the best ways to reduce the risk of deep vein thrombosis is to move frequently. The contractions of the lower legs, especially, helps blood move upward with more efficiency. Additionally, patients are encouraged to maintain a healthy weight so undue pressure is not placed on the pelvis and lower extremities. Finally, maintaining healthy blood pressure and avoiding smoking are recommended lifestyle changes.
When taking long flights are other rides, it is beneficial to move around every hour or two if possible. When sitting, stretch the legs out and move the feet to contract the calves.
When undergoing surgery, talk with the surgeon about taking a blood thinner before the procedure. Follow post-surgical guidelines provided by the surgeon, as well.
What are the treatment options for deep vein thrombosis?
If you suspect that you may have deep vein thrombosis, either go to the nearest emergency room or contact our doctor immediately. A thorough consultation and examination are needed to confirm the nature of your symptoms.
The purpose of DVT treatment is to prevent the clot from expanding and decrease the risk of pulmonary embolism or additional blood clot development. Some of the methods used to do this include:
- Medication to thin the blood. This encourages adequate blood flow to prevent clot formation. Blood thinners can also inhibit the enlargement of existing clots. In more severe cases or instances of an upper-body DVT, a thrombolytic drug may be prescribed to break up the clot.
- Compression stockings may be used after surgery or in instances of poor circulation to prevent the swelling that may lead to blood clots.
- A filter may be inserted into the vena cava, the large vein in the abdomen. This is a short-term technique that keeps clots from entering the lungs.
- DVT surgery may be performed to remove a large clot or a clot that is causing tissue damage or other serious issues. The thrombectomy procedure locates and removes the clot from the blood vessel and then repairs the vessel and any tissue that has been damaged.
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