Heart and Vascular Center

Deep Vein Thrombosis

Each year more than 600,000 Americans develop a blood clot in a deep vein, such as those in the lower leg or thigh. This is called Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) and it has become the third most prevalent cardiovascular disorder. When a clot breaks loose, it can travel through the heart into the lungs and cause serious breathing problems and even death. Left untreated, DVT can cause life-long pain, swelling and skin ulceration in the legs.

Symptoms of DVT include:Swelling, pain, and tenderness, often in the legs.

Risk factors include:

  • Immobility- such as a long plane flight

Traveling to new and faraway places can be exciting! Squishing into a coach seat for a long international flight is not. Studies show long-distance travel, a trip that lasts more than 4 hours, doubles the risk of developing DVT. It doesn't matter if you go by air, bus, train, or car. When you're in a cramped seat and don't move around, your blood flow slows.

  • Hormone therapy

Like pregnancy, birth control pills and some treatments for postmenopausal symptoms raise the amount of estrogen in women’s blood. That can increase her risk of DVT, even if the woman doesn’t have a blood disorder.

  • Pregnancy

Women are more likely to develop DVT during pregnancy and the 4 to 6 weeks after giving birth. That is when the woman has higher levels of estrogen, which may make blood clot more easily. The pressure of their expanding uterus can slow blood flow in the veins as well.

  • Cancer
  • Post surgical procedure
  • Extended bed rest
  • Smoking
  • Overweight or obese

DVT Screening and Diagnosis

The physician will check for signs of DVT. He will ask about medical history, medications, medical problems of close relatives, and things that put a patient at risk. An ultrasound is the most common way to confirm a diagnosis. It uses sound waves to "see" the blood flow and reveal a clot. Other testing might also be needed, such as a blood test called a d-dimer. Your doctor will check you for signs of DVT. He may also ask about your medical history, medications you're taking, medical problems of close relatives, and things that put you at risk. An ultrasound is the most common way to confirm a diagnosis.

Treatment

Drugs called anticoagulants are the most common way to treat DVT. Although they're known as blood thinners, they don't really thin the blood. They make it less "sticky" to prevent new blood clots from forming. They can't break up a clot already present, but they will give the body time to dissolve it on its own. These medications usually are taken orally but can be given via injection.

Vena Cava Filter

If a person cannot take blood thinners or if the blood thinner is ineffective, a physician may recommend putting a filter into the body’s biggest vein, called the vena cava. This filter catches breakaway clots and prevents the clot from going into the lungs/heart. The filter will not prevent new clots from forming or cure DVT, but it can help prevent a dangerous pulmonary embolism.

Compression Stockings

These special stockings put gentle pressure on the legs to keep the blood circulating. They help to prevent clots from forming as well as reduce swelling and relieve discomfort in a leg where a clot has already formed. You can get compression stockings over the counter, but your doctor will need to write a prescription for ones with more pressure.

Endovascular Therapy

In cases where patients develop severe leg pain and swelling and the limb is threatened, the patient may need advanced endovascular therapy.

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