Deep Vein ThrombosisWhat is Deep Vein Thrombosis?

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) occurs when a blood clot develops with a deep a vein, commonly in the legs.  It can occur in one or more veins and can have some serious consequences should any of the clots break loose and travel to the lungs.

What are the Risk Factors Associated with Deep Vein Thrombosis?

There are several risk factors associated with the development of DVT.  If you have more than one of these, your risk could be even higher.  Be mindful of any potential symptoms and consult with your physician if you have any of the following risk factors:

  • Age – Although DVT can occur at any age, it is most common in patients over the age of 60.
  • Inherited Disorder – Some individuals may inherit a blood-clotting disorder which makes the blood clot more easily than normal.
  • Bed Rest – Patients who have spent a prolonged amount of time on bed rest may be more likely to develop DVT. When we aren’t moving or walking around as usual, the calf muscles no longer contract, an action which helps keep blood flowing normally throughout the legs.
  • Pregnancy – Women who are pregnant have increased blood volume and pressure throughout areas such as their legs. Those who also have a blood clotting disorder or have been prescribed bed rest are more susceptible.  The risk of DVT can continue to be heightened up to 6 weeks postpartum.
  • Birth Control or Hormone Replacement – These can each interfere with the blood’s ability to clot normally.
  • Being Overweight – Being overweight or obese places additional pressure in the legs and veins, increasing the risk for a clot.
  • Smoking – Smoking increases the risk of most serious or chronic diseases. In the case of DVT, smoking interferes with proper blood clotting and circulation.
  • Heart FailureHeart failure greatly impacts the function of not only the heart, but the lungs as well. These patients are particularly susceptible to the dangers of a pulmonary embolism that may result from DVT.
  • Cancer – Certain types of cancer and cancer-treating medications can increase the risk of DVT. Speak with your doctor to learn more.
  • IBD – Certain types of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can increase your risk of DVT. These include Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, and more.  Speak with your doctor to learn more.
  • Family History – Having a family history of DVT, pulmonary embolism, or both may increase your risk.

What are the Symptoms Associated with Deep Vein Thrombosis?

Deep vein thrombosis is not always accompanied by noticeable symptoms, making it especially important to be mindful of any risk factors you may have.  When symptoms do present, they may include:

  • Pain in the form of soreness or cramping in the leg that begins around the calf
  • Redness or warmth in a specific area of the leg.

What are the Complications of Deep Vein Thrombosis?

There are a couple of potential complications that can result from DVT.  The most concerning and serious of these is pulmonary embolism.

  • Pulmonary Embolism – A pulmonary embolism occurs when a blood clot dislodges and travels through the bloodstream to the lungs, where it interferes with normal blood flow. This condition is serious and can even be life-threatening. Immediate medical attention is needed.
  • Postphlebitic Syndrome – This condition, also known as post-thrombotic syndrome, are changes or damages incurred as the result of DVT. These include edema in the legs, leg pain, and sores or discoloration of the skin.

What are the Symptoms of a Pulmonary Embolism?

As the most concerning potential complication of DVT, it is important that patients also understand the symptoms of a pulmonary embolism, which include:

  • Chest pain that is made worse with coughing or deep breathing
  • A general shortness of breath
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • A fast heartrate
  • Coughing up blood

How is Deep Vein Thrombosis Diagnosed?

DVT Ultrasound

Diagnosing DVT relies on a combination of symptoms, physical examination, and diagnostic tests.  To confirm the presence of deep vein thrombosis, a physician may use:

  • Imaging TestsImaging tests such as ultrasound, CT, and MRI can help doctors visualize blood clots in the veins, and subsequent tests can help determine if they are moving or growing larger.
  • Blood Test – Elevated levels of a particular substance in the blood called D dimer are present in nearly every DVT patient.
  • Venography – This technique uses an x-ray and contrast dye in the veins to find potential blood clots.

How is Deep Vein Thrombosis Treated?

Treating DVT has two purposes: prevent the clot from growing and prevent the clot from moving to the lungs.  This can be accomplished using one of the following techniques:

  • Blood Thinning Medication – This is the most commonly prescribed treatment for DVT. While blood thinners won’t break up an existing clot, they can prevent it from growing in size and reduce the risk of developing future clots.
  • Clot Busting Medication – In more severe cases of DVT or in the case of a pulmonary embolism, special medicine to break up the clot may be given. These medications are administered either through an IV or catheter.
  • Filters – As an additional precaution to ensure that a blood clot in the legs will not travel to the lungs, a filter may be placed in the vena cava artery in the abdomen. This filter will catch a trap a blood clot before it can progress to the lungs.