Deep Vein Thrombosis and Pulmonary Embolism
What is deep vein thrombosis?
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a condition in which a blood clot (thrombus) is formed within the deep veins in your body. A blood clot occurs when blood thickens or clumps together. It commonly affects the large veins in the lower leg and thigh, although it can affect any part of the body.
What causes deep vein thrombosis?
Several factors such as sitting for a long time while travelling, inherited blood disorders, prolonged hospital stay or bed rest, injury to the veins from surgery, certain cancers, pregnancy, smoking, obesity, heart failure and hormone replacement therapy may increase the chances of developing DVT.
What is pulmonary embolism?
Deep vein thrombosis can lead to pulmonary embolism, a condition where the blood clot breaks off from the vein and travels through the bloodstream to the lungs and blocks the blood flow. The loose clots are termed as embolus. Pulmonary embolism is a very serious condition and can be fatal if left untreated.
What are the symptoms of deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism?
In many cases, DVT does not cause noticeable symptoms, but when they occur, you may observe pain and swelling in the affected leg including the ankle and foot, increased warmth over the affected area and changes in your skin color. If you develop sudden difficulty in breathing, chest pain or discomfort, dizziness, sweating, coughing blood and nervousness it may indicate pulmonary embolism.
Another condition called as post-phlebitic syndrome may develop, which is characterized by long-term swelling of the leg (edema), skin discoloration and pain in the leg. These symptoms may be observed immediately or may develop after a few years.
How is deep vein thrombosis diagnosed?
In order to diagnose DVT, your doctor will perform a thorough physical examination of the areas of swelling, tenderness or skin discoloration. Your doctor may order other tests such as a D-dimer blood test, ultrasound of the legs, and CT scan that provide pictures of your veins. Another test, which is less commonly performed, is venography, where a contrast dye is injected into the large vein of the foot or ankle and X-rays are taken to see the vein in the affected area.
How is deep vein thrombosis treated?
There are several treatment options available to treat DVT and they include:
- Medications: Anti-coagulants also called blood thinners may be prescribed to decrease the blood’s ability to clot. These medications do not dissolve the existing clots, but help in preventing the clot from becoming bigger. Clot busters or thrombolytics are used to break the clots and are prescribed only in life threatening situations.
- Compression stocking: Compression stockings are usually worn on the legs to reduce swelling that may occur after a blood clot has developed in your leg. The stocking creates pressure and improves the blood return in your legs.
Surgery may be rarely needed if the prescribed medications do not work. Surgery involves the placement of a filter. During the surgery, a filter is placed in the large vein to prevent the blood clots from breaking loose and traveling to the lungs. In addition, a catheter and thrombolytic medications may be used to immediately break-up the clots.
How can I prevent deep vein thrombosis?
If you are at a risk of developing DVT, you can help prevent the condition by
- Regular checkups
- Taking the prescribed medications
- Wearing compression stockings
- Exercising: Stretching or moving your leg when you are travelling or when sitting for long periods of time.
- Modifying life style habits such as losing weight, quitting smoking, and controlling your blood pressure.