The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that as many as 900,000 people in the U.S. may be suffering from the condition deep vein thrombosis (DVT)–and many of them may not even know it. The main symptoms of this condition are pain and swelling, but only about half the people diagnosed with DVT experience any noticeable symptoms. Left untreated, this condition can be dangerous–even life threatening. The causes and symptoms of DVT are described below.
What Is Deep Vein Thrombosis?
Deep vein thrombosis is the formal term that describes a blood clot (thrombus) that forms in one or even several of your body’s deep veins. Most commonly, the blood clots form in the legs, but they can also form in the arms. Each year, more than 100,000 people die because of a blood clot. The major risk of DVT is that a blood clot in the vein can break loose and then travel to the lungs where it can become a pulmonary embolism. A pulmonary embolism can block the blood in the arteries, which makes it a medical emergency. Most pulmonary embolisms are caused by deep vein blood clots.
What Causes Deep Vein Thrombosis?
Deep vein thrombosis can develop without any apparent risk factor being present. However, most cases of this condition are caused by damage to a vein during a surgical procedure or because of inflammation caused by an injury or an infection.
Some people are at greater risk for developing DVT. These risk factors include:
- Sitting for extended periods of time
- Excessive bed rest
- Age (the risk for DVT increase after age 60)
- Suffering an injury
- Having a surgery
- Being overweight or obese
- Using birth control pills
- Taking hormone replacement therapy
In some cases, a person’s genetic makeup makes them more vulnerable to the development of this condition. If you have a relative that suffered from DVT, you’ll want to pay extra close attention to any DVT symptoms that might occur.
What Are the Symptoms of Deep Vein Thrombosis?
The two major symptoms of DVT are pain and swelling. Typically, the swelling only occurs in one leg or arm depending on where the blood clot is located. The pain tends to feel like cramping or it may just involve a soreness that lingers. The affected area may feel warm. The skin on the extremity may become red or discolored. Sometimes the skin may appear bluish.
If the DVT occurs in the upper portion of the body, the individual might experience neck or shoulder pain. Their arm or hand may swell and the skin could also become discolored. The limb may feel weak as well as sore.
A person experiencing these symptoms should certainly see their healthcare provider. However, DVT can lead to serious complications such as a pulmonary embolism. The symptoms of a pulmonary embolism include:
- Rapid breathing
- Rapid pulse
- Chest discomfort or pain
- Coughing up blood
- Feeling faint or lightheaded
These symptoms require immediate medical attention. A pulmonary embolism is a health emergency. Unfortunately, many people don’t have any symptoms of DVT or they may ignore symptoms thinking that the pain is due to something else, something minor. Anyone with risk factors for the condition should not ignore even the slightest symptoms that could point to DVT.
How Is Deep Vein Thrombosis Diagnosed?
If your doctor suspects the possibility of DVT, they will order certain diagnostic tests such as:
- Ultrasound (most common test for DVT)
- Venogram (typically ordered if the ultrasound proves inconclusive)
- D-dimer test (can determine if parts of a blood clot have broken off from the main clot)
If you are diagnosed with this condition, your physician may recommend lifestyle changes as well as various treatments.
How Is Deep Vein Thrombosis Treated?
If you have deep vein thrombosis, your physician will prescribe treatments to help prevent the clot or clots from growing. Treatment is also aimed at preventing other blood clots from forming. Once a person suffers from this condition, they are vulnerable to the formation of additional blood clots. Additionally, doctors will provide treatment to help prevent the clot from breaking up and moving toward the lungs.
DVT Treatment often includes:
Blood thinners can help to prevent blood clots from getting larger. Although they don’t break up or “cure” an existing clot, they can help prevent new clots from forming.
Doctors prescribe clot busters for severe DVT cases. That’s because there’s a risk for serious bleeding. Clot busters are delivered right into the clot via a catheter or IV with the goal of dissolving the clot. If a person’s DVT doesn’t respond to treatment with blood thinners, clot busters may be the recommended alternative.
Not all people can take blood thinners for one reason or another. In such cases, a doctor may recommend the placement of a filter, usually in the vena cava in the abdomen. The filter prevents breakaway blood clots from traveling to the lungs.
In very rare cases, a doctor may recommend surgery to physically remove the clot from a vein. The surgery, known as a thrombectomy, is not recommended for most cases of DVT. When the DVT occurs in a person’s leg, their healthcare provider may recommend wearing compression stockings for a couple hours each day to help prevent blood from pooling and clotting.
Tips to Reduce the Risk for DVT
Unfortunately, people can’t reduce all the risk factors for developing DVT, but they can reduce some. For instance, making lifestyle changes like losing weight and stopping smoking can reduce the risk for developing blood clots in deep veins. People who have an occupation where they sit for long periods of time should take stand-up breaks to help prevent blood from pooling and possibly forming into clots.
If you have any symptoms associated with DVT, don’t wait to have them checked out. Coastal Vascular Center specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of DVT as well as many other vascular conditions as well as dialysis. Contact us to schedule an appointment if you experience any of these symptoms or have already been diagnosed with deep vein thrombosis. Effective treatment can help you manage this condition and prevent complications.