Understanding Deep Vein Thrombosis

September 19, 2019 • • Vein DoctorVein Treatment


A blood clot in the leg, known as deep vein thrombosis, can lead to serious medical consequences, including a pulmonary embolism. Fortunately, DVT is preventable.

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a potentially serious venous disorder that occurs when a blood clot grows in the leg or thigh. A clot forms when slow blood flow in the leg’s deep veins causes blood cells to stick together and produce a mass. That clot produces a number of distinct symptoms in the affected limb, including swelling, reddish skin, skin that’s warm to the touch, and pain and cramping. Anyone noticing those signs should see a doctor immediately — if the clot isn’t diagnosed and treated, it could result in a dislodged clot traveling to the lungs and causing a pulmonary embolism (PE).  The warning signals of a PE include shortness of breath, chest pain, lightheadedness, rapid pulse, and coughing up blood. As with DVT, a pulmonary embolism demands swift medical intervention, as it could be life-threatening. In light of the seriousness of DVT, you’ll want to know the risk factors, how to prevent clots from forming, and treatment options. Here’s your guide to understanding DVT.

Risk Factors for DVT

DVT stems from a number of factors, including heredity or a congenital defect that makes the blood thicker and therefore more prone to clotting. Prolonged bed rest after surgery raises the risk of DVT, as does an injury to a vein after a broken bone. Pregnant women and women on birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy are at slightly greater risk of DVT. Other chronic conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, and cancer, further increase a person’s DVT risk. Smoking and obesity have also been implicated in DVT. The risk rises along with age, as well. More recently, a 2018 study suggested a link between DVT and varicose veins. Researchers in Taiwan determined varicose vein patients were at 5.3 times greater risk of developing DVT than the general population. 

DVT Treatment and Prevention

Diagnostic tests for deep vein thrombosis include an ultrasound exam and a blood test to detect an elevated level of D dimer, a protein that signifies the presence of a clot. Once diagnosed, treatment can begin. Patients will usually be prescribed blood thinning or anticoagulant drugs first. While these medications don’t break down an existing clot, they can slow the growth of a clot and prevent the development of new ones.  In most cases, the clot dissolves on its own. If it doesn’t, or if the clot is large and painful, surgical intervention may be necessary. In one such procedure — a catheter-directed thrombolysis — a clot-dissolving substance is injected into the clot to break it up. Other methods include implanting a small metal device into the main vein to move blood from the extremities to the heart. The vena cava filter, as it’s called, catches clumps of blood. Only in rare circumstances does a clot require surgical removal.

To prevent a DVT or minimize the risk of having another DVT event, you should discuss your risk factors with your doctor and create a treatment plan. The plan will include measures you can follow to avoid a blood clot, such as:

Stay Active.

Inactivity — whether due to lack of exercise, extended periods sitting or standing at work, or seated on a plane or in a car for more than four hours — all increase the likelihood of DVT. Your calf muscles must be exercised regularly in order to help the veins pump blood and prevent the blood from clotting. At work or while traveling, make sure to move around as much as possible or flex your ankles to keep the blood moving.

Quit Smoking.

The damage caused by cigarettes to blood vessels decreases blood flow, which could eventually lead to clots. If you smoke, talk to your doctor about smoking cessation treatments.

Wear Compression Stockings

Made of strong elastic, compression stockings provide an extra layer of support to leg veins. This added pressure on the veins reduces the chance of blood pooling in the vein and becoming a clot.

What are Your DVT Risk Factors?

The Desert Vein and Vascular Institute offers a full range of vascular health services using state-of-the-art technology in a caring, compassionate setting. We treat varicose veins and can assess your DVT risk. If you experience any symptoms of DVT, make an appointment so one of our board certified specialists can diagnose the condition and talk you through your treatment options. Contact us today for an appointment.

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