Deep Vein Thrombosis

What is Deep Vein Thrombosis?

Blood clots are your body’s first line of defense against bleeding. As a response to a wound, clotting is an essential — perhaps even life-saving — function. But when the body’s normal mechanisms are disrupted, blood clots can form when they aren’t needed in places that make them dangerous. A blood clot that develops in a major deep vein is called deep vein thrombosis (DVT). DVT can pose a serious threat to your health if it is not diagnosed and treated in a timely manner.

Deep vein thrombosis is a condition in which the blood clots or forms a thrombus in one of the deep veins in your body. This occurs primarily in the lower extremities, but deep vein blood clots can also develop in other areas of the body. DVT is a serious condition because a blood clot that has formed in your vein can break loose, travel through your bloodstream and lodge in your lungs, blocking blood flow. Even if a blood clot remains in place, it may permanently damage the valves inside the vein. This damage can lead to chronic problems in the leg such as swelling, pain and leg sores.

Every year, approximately 2 million people will develop deep vein thrombosis and around 200,000 of them die. DVT kills more people than AIDS, breast cancer and motor vehicle accidents combined. It’s important to find and treat DVT early for the best prognosis.

What Causes DVT?

In the event of an injury, bleeding triggers a biological “domino effect” that sets a series of steps in motion. Platelets and proteins called coagulation factors clump together to seal the damaged blood vessel and stop the bleed. The blood clot dissolves when it is no longer needed. Blood clotting disorders can occur if the lining of a vein is damaged, if blood flow is too slow or if a condition or medication makes the blood clot more easily. DVT is the result of a clot that forms inside a deep vein and prevents blood from circulating normally through your body.

What Can Happen If DVT Is Not Treated?

Untreated DVT can lead to illness, disability, and in some cases, death. The most serious complication of DVT is pulmonary embolism — a blockage that occurs when part of the clot breaks free and travels through the bloodstream to the lungs. A small enough clot can be treatable, but a large clot can stop blood from reaching the lungs, making the condition fatal.

DVT can also damage the vein and lead to long-term complications from chronic venous insufficiency or post-thrombotic syndrome. These conditions are characterized by chronic swelling, pain, discoloration of the skin, scaling and venous stasis ulcers. The symptoms may eventually become so severe that they cause disability.

What Are the Warning Signs of Deep Vein Thrombosis?

DVT can occur without any noticeable symptoms, making it difficult to detect. For this reason, it is even more important to understand the risk factors and prevent the development of DVT in the first place.

Talk to a doctor immediately if you have any risk factors and experience the following deep vein thrombosis symptoms:

  • Swelling in the affected leg
  • Tenderness over the affected vein
  • An area of skin that feels warmer than areas around it
  • Pain in the affected leg (it often starts in the calf and can feel like cramping)
  • Discolored skin on the affected leg

Who Is at Risk for Deep Vein Thrombosis?

A “risk factor” is anything that might increase an individual’s chance of developing a disease. While DVT can affect anyone, risk factors that may contribute to deep vein thrombosis include:

  • Stagnation (e.g. traveling by plane or car for over three hours)
  • Lying in bed for hours (e.g. while recovering from surgery)
  • A change in blood chemistry (e.g. taking hormones or certain prescriptions, or having transfusions during surgery)
  • Trauma (e.g. a car accident or broken bone)
  • Recent surgery
  • A catheter located in a central vein
  • Genetic blood clotting disorders
  • Pregnancy and the initial weeks after giving birth
  • Obesity
  • Having certain other diseases or conditions (e.g. stroke, chronic heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer)
  • Tobacco use
  • Increasing age
  • Personal or family history of DVT

Some patients do not know they have a DVT until they experience a pulmonary embolism. The symptoms and warning signs of a pulmonary embolism include:

  • Rapid pulse
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Coughing up blood
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain that worsens when taking a deep breath or coughing
  • Feeling lightheaded or dizzy, or fainting
  • A feeling of anxiety
  • Excessive sweating

Pulmonary embolism can be life-threatening. Seek out urgent medical attention if you experience these symptoms.

symptoms

How are they treated?

Quick, effective outpatient visits treat the root cause, not just the symptoms.

How Is DVT Diagnosed?

Developing a comprehensive treatment plan starts with a thorough assessment. Detection of deep vein thrombosis is most commonly done by having a color duplex ultrasound. Ultrasound is a noninvasive, painless technology used to evaluate blood flow through the blood vessels. During the test, a wand called a transducer is moved over the area being examined. The wand emits soundwaves and creates images based on how the waves reflect back off the moving blood. The images show where blood slows down or stops, indicating the possible presence of a clot.

It is important that this is done by a qualified sonographer or technologist. Different organizations have different quality standards when it comes to venous imaging, but the Intersocietal Accreditation Commission (IAC) has the highest standard for vascular testing. The Vein Center of Arizona performs testing according to the standards set forth by the IAC and only employs highly experienced Registered Vascular Technologists.

How Is DVT Treated?

A timely diagnosis and proper treatment can help prevent the complications of blood clots. Deep vein thrombosis treatment aims to stop the blood clot from growing larger, prevent the clot from breaking off and migrating to the lungs, and reduce the chance of developing another blood clot in the future. Treatment options include compression stocking therapy, prescription of blood thinners or clot busters, and possibly the insertion of a filter into a large vein in the abdomen.

Compression stockings are among the most impactful innovations in the treatment of venous disease. When worn, these garments apply constant gentle pressure to help blood circulate freely, making it harder for it to pool in your veins and form a clot. Compression garments can be used as part of your DVT treatment, as well as for preventative care.

Medications prescribed for DVT may include anticoagulants (also known as blood thinners), which increase the time it takes for blood to clot. Over time, your body works with the medication to diminish the size and consistency of the clot. Several anticoagulant medications are available to treat DVT. Less commonly, medications called thrombolytics are used to quickly dissolve a clot that is large and causing severe symptoms.

If other treatments are not an option, a filter may be placed inside the large abdominal vein called the vena cava. The filter cannot stop a blood clot from forming, but it can prevent a life-threatening clot from entering your lungs. Filters themselves have risks and should only be used for a short-term period.

Can DVT Be Prevented?

If you think you are at risk for a blood clot, talk to a doctor about strategies for deep vein thrombosis prevention. Although the risk will never be gone completely, there are steps you can take to minimize it and improve your venous health overall. The following conservative measures are recommended for deep vein thrombosis treatment at home:

  • Stay physically active
  • Maintain a stable, healthy weight
  • Exercise your leg muscles if you’re sitting for a long time while traveling
  • Get up and move as soon as possible after illness or surgery
  • Take medications to prevent blood clots if prescribed by your doctor
  • Wear compression stockings
  • Wear loose-fitting clothing
  • Elevate your legs while at rest
  • Get to know your family history
  • Follow your doctor’s recommendations based on your specific risk factors

Visit Us and Experience the Vein Center Difference

Because a blood clot can quickly become life-threatening, you should see a doctor right away if you notice any symptoms of DVT. Dr. Paul Larson and the staff at The Vein Center of Arizona are dedicated to the diagnosis, treatment and management of vein disease. Dr. Larson is board-certified by the American Board of Venous and Lymphatic Medicine and is one of the few vein doctors in the country to have also received the advanced venous imaging credential RPhS (Registered Phlebology Sonographer). It’s never too early to inquire about your risk of developing deep vein thrombosis. Call us at (928) 726-8346 to request a vein screening in Yuma today.

The Vein Center of Arizona offers patients a wide variety of treatment options:

Comprehensive Treatment Plan

Developing a comprehensive treatment plan follows a thorough assessment. The assessment will normally consist of a review of your venous symptoms, a visual inspection of your problems and a thorough review of your history. The assessment completed by Dr. Paul Larson, supplemented by the diagnostic ultrasound if indicated by a registered vascular technologist will aid in the process.
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Foam Sclerotherapy

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