Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)

What is Deep Vein Thrombosis?

Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) refers to a blood clot that develops inside of a vein within the body. Deep vein thrombosis generally appears in the lower thigh or leg. If a deep vein thrombosis or blood clot as it is also referred to were to break loose in the area of the lung, it could result in a pulmonary embolism.

Thrombophlebitis is a condition that occurs when the vein swells. People who sit for extended periods of time, are over 60 and overweight, and who smoke are more susceptible to developing deep vein thrombosis than the general population. Within the United States 300,000 to 600,000 people are affected by deep vein thrombosis even though the condition is rare. Those taking hormone replacement medication like birth control pills are also at higher risk for developing deep vein thrombosis.

What are the Symptoms of Deep Vein Thrombosis?

Symptoms of deep vein thrombosis may include tenderness and redness in the leg and arm area, warmth, and oedema (swelling). Other symptoms include coughing, vomiting blood, chest pain, and shortness of breath.

Deep Vein Thrombosis Causes

Many cases of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) occur without any clear cause, but there are many factors which could increase an individual’s risk of developing the condition.

The first is inactivity. When we sit or lay down for long periods of time, our blood flow slows down considerably and blood can begin to collect in the legs. This can increase the risk of a blood clot forming in the deep veins of the legs.

It’s also possible to develop DVT after sustaining injuries which damage blood vessels. Bone fractures, serious muscle injuries or even surgery can all result in the damage of deep blood vessels which could then become narrow or blocked and lead to a blood clot. Conditions like vasculitis and varicose veins can cause similar damage to veins.

Sometimes DVT can occur during pregnancy, and this is because the body prepares for the possibility of losing blood in childbirth by making the blood clot more easily. Similarly, hormone replacement therapy and the combined contraceptive pill can increase the risk of DVT since they contain estrogen which causes blood to clot more readily.

DVT can also be caused by the following conditions which cause easier clotting of blood:

  • Antiphospholipid syndrome
  • Cancer and treatments like chemotherapy and radiotherapy
  • Heart disease and lung disease
  • Hepatitis
  • Inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis
  • Thrombophilia

How is Deep Vein Thrombosis Treated?

Your doctor may prescribe blood thinners also known as anticoagulants which are designed to keep the blood clot from getting bigger, breaking off, and can also prevent the formation of new blood clots.

The most common blood thinners prescribed include Warfarin, Rivaroxaban, Dabigatran, Apixaban, Edoxaban, Fondaparinux, and Heparin. Patients who can’t tolerate blood thinners may have to use a vena cava filter which is a small metal device inserted within a large vein known as the vena cava that catches blood clots and prevents them from traveling to areas of the body where they can be dangerous.

To prevent swelling and reduce the formation of clots, a doctor might recommend using compression stocking during the day.

Frequent strolls and mild exercise are essential as well.

Deep Vein Thrombosis Prevention

People who are bed or chair bound due to illness or injury or during recovery from an operation are at particularly high risk of DVT due to inactivity. To reduce the risk, it can be helpful to perform basic leg exercises where possible to help get blood pumping through the legs and back up to the upper body. Raising the legs with a pillow periodically may also help.

Compression stockings may help to prevent DVT. These apply comfortable pressure to the legs which helps to keep blood pumping through the deep veins. They are particularly useful for those who aren’t strong or mobile enough to move their legs at all.

DVT is a risk associated with long haul flights or long car journeys since we spend a great deal of time sitting in one position. It’s recommended to get up to use the bathroom regularly (or stop and walk around at rest stops when driving) and to flex the ankles up and down while sitting to improve blood flow.