Deep Vein Thrombosis
What is Deep Vein Thrombosis?
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) occurs when a blood clot forms in a deep vein, typically in one of the legs. This condition can develop as a result of certain medical conditions that affect blood clotting or if a person is immobile for an extended period of time due to surgery, an accident or illness.
Deep vein thrombosis can lead to a condition called pulmonary embolism, if a clot breaks loose and travels through the bloodstream to the lung. A pulmonary embolism is one of the most severe DVT complications. It can cause permanent damage to the affected lung, low oxygen levels in the blood, organ damage due to low oxygen and even death – especially if the clots are large or numerous – without rapid treatment.
Baptist Health is known for advanced, superior care for patients with heart disease and the diagnosis, management and treatment of deep vein thrombosis. You will appreciate timely appointments and a professional, friendly atmosphere where we take time to listen to your concerns.
At Baptist Health, you have access to the region’s most comprehensive, multidisciplinary team of specialists and innovative therapies, including many available only through specialized clinical trials. In every way, we work to demonstrate the utmost in excellent care to those who trust us with their health.
Where Does Deep Vein Thrombosis Occur?
Deep vein thrombosis typically occurs in one of the legs.
Signs and Symptoms
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) may cause no symptoms. When symptoms appear, they include:
- Pain (typically in the calf; may feel like cramping or soreness)
- Redness of the skin on the lower leg
- Tenderness to the touch
- Warmth to the touch
To diagnose deep vein thrombosis, we ask questions about your medical history and do a physical exam. We then use advanced diagnostic procedures and technology to effectively diagnose, inform treatment and carefully monitor the condition. Common diagnostic procedures can include:
Diagnosis of a pulmonary embolism usually requires one or more of the following tests:
Blood test: Blood tests can check for the clot-dissolving substance D dimer. High levels may indicate an increased likelihood of blood clots. Blood tests also can measure the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood and can help identify blood clotting disorders.
Computerized tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): These scans use a series of X-rays (CT) or radio waves and a powerful magnetic field (MRI) to produce detailed images of internal structures, including the veins.
Ultrasound: Duplex ultrasonography uses soundwaves to check for blood clots in the thigh veins. The physician uses a wand-shaped device called a transducer to direct the sound waves to the veins, and the waves are reflected to the transducer and translated into a moving image by a computer.
Venography: A dye is injected into a large vein in the foot or ankle and X-rays create images of the veins in the legs and feet, to look for clots.
Certain behaviors and lifestyle factors can increase your chance of developing a blood clot in the leg, including:
- Being overweight, especially if you smoke and/or have high blood pressure
- Smoking, especially combined with other risk factors
Supplementing estrogen (birth control pills, hormone replacement), especially if you smoke or are overweight
Risk factors that could contribute to DVT include:
Cancer: Some cancers – like pancreatic, ovarian and lung cancer – can increase levels of substances that help blood clots form. Chemotherapy can compound that risk. Women taking tamoxifen or raloxifene for breast cancer are also at a higher risk of clots.
Heart disease: Cardiovascular disease, particularly heart failure, makes blood clots more likely.
Pregnancy: The baby pressing on veins in the pelvis can slow blood return from the legs, increasing a woman’s risk of clots.
Prolonged immobility: Clots are more likely to form during long periods of inactivity, like being confined to bed after injury or surgery and/or long plane or car trips.
Deep Vein Thrombosis Surgery: This is a major cause of clots, so medication to prevent clots may be given before and after major deep vein thrombosis surgery.
While all cases of DVT cannot be prevented, there are ways to reduce your risk, including:
Get out of bed, and exercise your legs and feet while on bedrest or traveling: It’s very important to get moving as soon as possible after surgery, injury or illness. If you cannot get out of bed – or if you’re confined to a car, plane, train or bus while traveling – make sure to exercise your legs and feet. Point your toes up to stretch your calves, then relax. Repeat several times.
Practice good heart health: Watch what you eat, exercise (as advised by your physician) and avoid smoking. Smoking and being overweight are two major, preventable causes of DVT.
Take anticoagulants before/after surgery: Before and after certain types of major surgery, your physician may prescribe blood thinners. Take them as directed.
Use compression stockings: If you have a known clot risk, wearing these specially fitted stockings can help blood circulate effectively in your legs.
DVT often goes away on its own, but it can return. Some people may have long-term pain and swelling in the leg. If a pulmonary embolism occurs, the deep vein thrombosis prognosis is much more serious.
Deep vein thrombosis treatment may include:
Blood Thinning Medication
These medications prevent new clots from forming. They may be prescribed before or after surgery or for a diagnosed clotting disorder.
These medications – also called clot-busting drugs – are administered through the vein and can dissolve clots quickly. Because they can cause sudden and severe bleeding, they are only used in life-threatening situations, like during a massive pulmonary embolism or stroke.
A surgeon may remove a large or life-threatening clot via a thin, flexible catheter threaded through the blood vessels.
These stockings, which apply pressure to your feet and lower legs, reduce the chance that blood will pool and clot.
A surgeon can use a catheter to position a filter in the inferior vena cava, which leads from the legs to the right side of the heart. The filter can help keep clots from being carried from the legs to the lungs.
Some deep vein thrombosis complications could include:
Pulmonary embolism: This potentially life-threatening condition occurs when a clot breaks off and travels through the bloodstream to the lung. It requires immediate treatment. Symptoms include sudden and unexplained shortness of breath; chest pain or discomfort that worsens when you take a deep breath or cough; lightheadedness, dizziness or fainting; coughing up blood and/or a rapid heart rate.
- Postphlebitic syndrome: This common complication of DVT describes a collection of signs and symptoms, including swelling of the leg(s), leg pain, skin discoloration and/or sores. It is caused by damage to the veins from the blood clot, which reduces blood flow in the affected areas. The symptoms may not occur until a few years after the DVT.
Can DVT Cause High Blood Pressure?
A specific correlation between DVT and high blood pressure involves pulmonary embolisms. People who have DVT’s are at a greater risk of pulmonary embolisms (PE), which is when the blood clot breaks off and travels up into the lungs, creating blockages in the arteries. A serious condition that can result from a pulmonary embolism is high blood pressure in the lungs, known as pulmonary hypertension. Although DVT’s may not directly cause high blood pressure, pulmonary embolisms, which are a complication of DVT, may result in issues with high blood pressure.
DVT complications are serious, specifically pulmonary embolisms. Sometimes patients exhibit noticeable symptoms with PE, but sometimes there are no symptoms. Because complications with DVT are both serious and numerous, it is important to contact your primary care physician if you have any noticeable symptoms. Diagnosis of DVT can help prevent or treat complications that may result from it.
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