Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a serious condition that often affects older adults and those who are pregnant, but it can happen to anyone. DVT occurs when a blood clot forms in a deep vein in the body. Because some of the complications of deep vein thrombosis are life-threatening, it’s important that everyone can spot the signs and symptoms of the condition and act fast. Read on to learn more about recognizing and treating DVT.
What is DVT?
Deep vein thrombosis by definition, is a blood clot (thrombus) that develops within a deep vein in the body, usually in the leg. A blood clot is a thick, semi-solid lump of blood.
DVT is considered to be a serious condition because the clots can become loose and travel through the bloodstream. A loose clot is called an embolus. If an embolus reaches an artery in the lungs, it can block the flow of blood. This potentially life-threatening situation is known as pulmonary embolism (PE).
A blood clot is termed acute DVT if it formed within the last fourteen days. At this stage, the clot is not very hard and is not tightly bound to the vein walls. For these reasons, acute DVT is relatively easy to treat.
When a blood clot is present for 28 days or more, it is referred to as chronic DVT. By now, the clot has gotten harder and is firmly connected to the walls of the vein. Chronic DVT clots often scar the inside of the vein and they increase the risk of pulmonary embolism.
Anything that reduces blood circulation or proper blood clotting can cause deep vein thrombosis. The most common deep vein thrombosis causes include:
- Injury to the inner lining of a vein
- Use of certain medications
- A sedentary lifestyle
DVT Risk Factors
Several factors increase the likelihood of developing deep vein thrombosis. A person’s DVT risk is increased if one or more of the following apply:
- A family history of DVT or pulmonary embolism. If close family members have had one or both of these conditions, it increases your risk of DVT.
- DVT can occur at any age, but it’s more common in adults aged 60 and over.
- History of injury or surgery. Any type of trauma to the veins can increase the risk of DVT.
- Being pregnant puts increased pressure on the veins in the legs and pelvic region. DVT in pregnancy increases the mother’s risk of a blood clot for up to six weeks after labor.
- A sedentary lifestyle. People who sit or lie down for long periods are more likely to develop DVT than those who are reasonably active.
- Excess weight. Carrying around excess weight puts pressure on the veins in the pelvis and legs.
- Health conditions. Several medical conditions increase the risk of developing DVT. These include heart failure, inflammatory bowel diseases, and some forms of cancer.
- Inherited blood-clotting disorder. Some genetic conditions are known to affect blood clotting, including Factor V Leiden and a prothrombin gene mutation. Although these rare conditions increase DVT risk, they usually don’t cause blood clots unless combined with other risk factors.
- Hormone-altering medications. Using birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy increases the clotting ability of the blood.
- Smoking reduces circulation, increasing the risk of DVT.
In cases of deep vein thrombosis, leg pain and cramping is typically the most common symptom. Pain often begins in the calf area. Other DVT symptoms in the leg include:
- A warm sensation
- Red or discolored skin
- Difficulty walking
Of course, if the clot is located in another part of the body, it will cause the same sort of symptoms in that region. Sometimes, deep vein thrombosis is asymptomatic (doesn’t cause symptoms).
As well as looking out for deep vein thrombosis symptoms, you should also be aware of the signs and symptoms of a pulmonary embolism. That’s because a PE requires urgent medical attention.
PE symptoms include:
- Chest pain that gets worse when inhaling or coughing
- Coughing up blood
- Rapid pulse
Most people develop DVT in the leg, although a DVT blood clot can form in other areas too. People with DVT may get a clot in the calf, thigh, pelvis, arm, or neck.
To diagnose deep vein thrombosis, a doctor will first perform a physical examination and ask about your symptoms.
If they suspect a blood clot, they may order one or more of the following:
Blood Test for DVT
A specialized D-dimer blood test is a common deep vein thrombosis test. It detects loose pieces of blood clot that have broken off and are circulating in the bloodstream. The higher the number of pieces detected by this DVT test, the more likely it is that you have a clot.
The D-dimer test is less reliable after surgery, injury, or during pregnancy as blood clot fragments naturally increase at these times.
Your doctor may carry out an ultrasound test on the affected body part. An ultrasound uses sound waves to create a moving image of the tissues in your body to project them onto a video screen. If a clot is present, your doctor should see it on the screen.
Some people may need an ultrasound each day for several days to see if the clot is getting bigger or if new ones are forming.
This test involves injecting dye into a vein in the foot before taking an X-ray of the affected area. This may show up blood clots.
The aim of deep vein thrombosis treatment is to prevent the clot from growing in size and to stop it from breaking off and causing a pulmonary embolism. DVT treatment also reduces the risk of other clots forming.
See some of the most effective DVT treatments below
Try a pedal exerciser for a quick workout at your desk. ( See Product on Amazon )
Deep vein thrombosis develops due to reduced blood flow. Regular movement encourages healthy circulation throughout the legs and whole body. Using a pedal exerciser is an easy way stay active when you have a busy lifestyle or balance issues. In addition to boosting blood flow, these devices improve stamina and reduce stress.
Regular Physical Activity
In addition to using a pedal exerciser, you should aim to improve strength and flexibility throughout your body. This approach ensures healthy circulation in all the limbs, which should reduce the risk of DVT in other areas besides the legs. Aim to get a mix of cardio and strength training. To improve focus and flexibility, try Pilates or yoga.
A quality digital scale can give you fast and accurate information to stay on top of your health. ( See Product on Amazon )
People with DVT should aim to lead as healthy a lifestyle as they can. They should try to eat a balanced diet, address digestive issues, and quit smoking. Those who are overweight or obese should try to lose weight to reduce the pressure in their veins. Track your weight loss with a digital bathroom scale.
Deep Vein Thrombosis Compression Stockings
Compression is the number one solution for comprehensive vein health. Make sure to grab a pair of stockings made to fit your needs. ( See Product on Amazon )
Graduated compression stockings are loosest at the knee and become tighter toward the ankle. They create a gentle pressure that stops blood from collecting and clotting. They also reduce swelling in the legs. Graduated compression stockings, also known as DVT flight socks, can be worn everyday or just while flying with DVT.
Targeted compression means more effective DVT treatment. Get started today with a leg compression pump. ( See Product at Amazon )
To alleviate DVT symptoms and prevent future clots from forming, try a leg compression pump. Compression therapy effectively increases circulation in the legs to bring down swelling and reduce DVT pain. Usually, you can adjust the level and duration of compression to your needs and preferences.
Most cases of DVT are treated with medication. Your doctor might prescribe blood thinners (anticoagulants) to reduce blood clotting. Although these drugs don’t get rid of existing clots, they do stop them from growing in size. They also prevent the formation of new clots.
Some blood thinners, including heparin, are given as an injection while others, like warfarin, are taken in tablet form. More potent medications, referred to as clot busters, are given intravenously to people with severe deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism.
Keep track of your daily medications in a pill dispenser and organizer.
Individuals who are at risk of pulmonary embolism or who can’t take anticoagulants may require a type of deep vein thrombosis surgery. This procedure involves placing a filter into the vena cava vein located in the stomach. The filter stops loose clots from traveling to the lungs. Usually, this type of procedure is reserved for high-risk cases.
Recovery from DVT
Acute DVT is the easiest form of the condition to treat. When the clot is spotted early, medications and lifestyle changes are usually enough to ensure a quick recovery.
Chronic DVT, on the other hand, must be monitored closely to ensure it doesn’t cause a pulmonary embolism. People with this form of DVT may need to take medication for more extended periods. They will also require regular check-ups. In serious cases, a vena cava filter may be required.
Those who are receiving treatment should take their blood thinners as directed. Typically, they will need to continue these medications for three to six months to avoid DVT complications.
Post-recovery, the focus should be on preventing new cases of DVT. Recurrence is common and affects approximately one-third of people with DVT or PE within ten years.
Roughly half of all people with DVT will experience long-term complications. Some of the most common include:
The most serious complication of DVT is a pulmonary embolism. This life-threatening condition damages the lungs and other organs in the body. If DVT is left untreated, ten percent of people will develop a pulmonary embolism.
Postphlebitic syndrome, or postthrombotic syndrome, is a common complication of DVT. It results from damage to the veins caused by reduced blood flow. Symptoms include swelling, pain, and sores on the skin of the affected body parts.
This complication does not arise from having DVT, but rather from taking blood-thinning medications for DVT. Discuss the risk of excessive bleeding with your doctor, and check what activities you should avoid to reduce your risk of injury and blood loss.
The following tips can prevent deep vein thrombosis from developing:
- Don’t sit still for too long
- Avoid crossing your legs when sitting down
- When traveling long distances, take breaks every hour to stretch your legs
- Wear compression stockings on flights
- Exercise every day
- Lose weight if you are overweight
- Quit smoking
Avoiding DVT and Its Complications
Deep vein thrombosis is a serious condition that shouldn’t be ignored. The earlier individuals with DVT seek treatment, the easier it is to treat. Learn to recognize the most common DVT signs and symptoms and see your doctor immediately if you experience any of them. The most common DVT cure is blood-thinning medication, but lifestyle changes can stop the clots from getting bigger and prevent new ones from developing. To avoid DVT and its complications, engage in regular activity, maintain a healthy weight, and wear compression stockings.