Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)
What Is Deep Vein Thrombosis?
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) (also known as thromboembolism, post-thrombotic syndrome, and post-phlebitic syndrome) is a serious condition that occurs when a blood clot forms in a vein located deep inside your body. A blood clot is a clump of blood that is in a gelatinous, solid state. Deep vein blood clots typically form in your thigh or lower leg, but they can also develop in other areas of your body.
Risk Factors of DVT
Risk factors include:
- Being over the age of 50
- Having an injury that damages your veins (i.e. a bone fracture)
- Being overweight, which puts more pressure on the veins in your legs and pelvis
- Having a family history of dvt
- Having a catheter placed in a vein
- Taking birth control pills or undergoing hormone therapy
- Smoking (especially heavily)
- Being seated for a long time (especially if you already have at least one other risk factor)
- Surgery (especially in lower extremities)
Some diseases and disorders can increase your risk of having blood clots. These include hereditary blood clotting disorders, especially when you have at least one other risk factor. Cancer and inflammatory bowel disease can also increase the risk of developing a blood clot. Heart failure, a condition that makes it more difficult for your heart to pump blood, also occurs with an increased risk of clots.
Causes of Deep Vein Thrombosis
Veins have one-way valves that prevent blood from flowing backward. Varicose veins are the product of the failure of these valves; blood begins to collect in the veins rather than continuing toward your heart, causing these veins to enlarge. Varicose veins often affect the legs because those veins are the farthest from your heart, and without the help of properly functioning one-way valves, it is quite difficult for your heart to pump the blood upward against the force of gravity.
Symptoms of DVT
Symptoms of DVT only occur in about half of the people who have this condition.
Common symptoms include:
- Swelling in your foot, ankle, or leg (usually on one side)
- Cramping pain in your affected leg (usually beginning in your calf)
- Severe, unexplained pain in your foot and ankle
- An area of skin that feels warmer than the skin on the surrounding areas
- Skin over the affected area turning pale or a reddish or bluish color
Diagnosis of Deep Vein Thrombosis
It is often difficult to diagnose DVT, as there are often no symptoms. Many people only find out that they have deep vein thrombosis after they’ve gone through emergency treatment due to a pulmonary embolism.
Treatment of DVT
Your doctor might prescribe medications that thin your blood, making it harder for your blood to clot and keeping existing clots as small as possible. This decreases the chance that you’ll develop more clots.
If blood thinners don’t work or if you have a severe case of DVT, your doctor might use intravenous thrombolytic drugs, which break up preexisting clots.
Wearing compression stockings can prevent swelling and may lower your chance of developing clots; however, they don’t demonstrate a reduction in recurrent DVT.
If you aren’t able to take blood thinners, you might need to have a filter put inside your large abdominal vein. This form of treatment helps prevent pulmonary embolisms by stopping clots from entering your lungs.
However, there is a risk to filters being placed. If left long term, they can actually cause DVT. They should be used short term until the risk of DVT is reduced and an anticoagulation can be used.
Complications of Deep Vein Thrombosis
A major complication of DVT is a pulmonary embolism. A pulmonary embolism occurs when a blood clot moves to your lungs and blocks a blood vessel. This is a very serious, and even life-threatening condition that can cause serious damage to your lungs and other parts of your body. If you believe you may have a pulmonary embolism, you should seek medical attention immediately.
Symptoms of a pulmonary embolism include:
- Chest pain (that gets worse with coughing or inhaling deeply)
- Rapid breathing
- Coughing up blood
- Rapid heart rate