Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is the formation of a blood clot in a deep vein, most commonly in the legs or pelvis. Deep veins are usually located next to main arteries and have one-way valves that help prevent blood from flowing backward.
With DVT, a blood clot, or thrombosis, forms and circulates through the venous system. If a part of the blood clot breaks off and travels to the heart, it easily turns into a pulmonary embolism, a fatal condition. The best way to prevent this complication is to recognize DVT when it develops and receive treatment as soon as possible.
DVT Risk Factors & Causes
One of the best ways to assess DVT risk is to know whether you are at a higher risk for this condition than the general population. According to the CDC, risk factors for DVT include:
- Prior DVT diagnosis
- Previously experiencing pulmonary embolism
- Family and genetic history
- Obesity or being overweight
- Hormonal birth control pills
- Hormone replacement therapy
- Advanced age
- Catheter use
- Prolonged bed rest
- Having a blood-clotting disorder
Those who have any of these risk factors should consider discussing their DVT risk with their licensed medical provider, especially if symptoms of DVT are present.
Symptoms of DVT
Deep vein thrombosis may present a wide range of symptoms that are clear indicators of an embolism in the circulatory system. These symptoms include:
- Swelling of the affected limb
- Uncomfortable and uncontrollable pain
- Pain that increases with movement of a limb
- Pain that follows a bein
- Discoloration in a specific limb
- Increased warmth in the affected area
- Cramps similar to a “Charlie horse”
If this condition is not treated accordingly, it can lead to symptoms of a pulmonary embolism (PE). Symptoms of PE include:
- shortness of breath,
- chest pain,
- rapid pulse, or
- coughing up blood.
PE can be fatal. If any of these symptoms occur after you have experienced pain in your extremities, you need to visit your physician or emergency center right away.
Treatments for DVT
When it comes to treating DVT or PE, the main concern is to dissolve the embolism right away, before it poses a risk to your health.
DVT may be treated with a combination of pharmaceutical drugs, devices, and therapies depending on the severity.
Some of the most common drugs prescribed for this condition are anticoagulants. These drugs thin the blood and reduce the risk of blood clot formation. This type of medicine also stops existing blood clots from getting any bigger and decreases the chance of breaking off and becoming a serious problem.
Blood Thinners: Warfarin vs Heparin
Some of the most common blood thinners used are warfarin and heparin. Generally, warfarin takes up to two days to start working and maybe best for individuals who are not at immediate risk of blood clots becoming mobile throughout the body.
On the other hand, once heparin is injected and circulated throughout your body with the assistance of an IV tube, you can expect immediate results. The blood clot should dissolve swiftly. This medication is better suited for people at immediate risk of PE.
No matter which drug is used, your condition will need to be monitored by your physician. In extreme cases, both may be used. Once the warfarin starts to work, the heparin is stopped to prevent other health risks.
Other Immediate Treatments
Other treatment options may include a clot buster in extreme situations, also called tissue plasminogen activator (tPA). It is introduced to the body through an IV and, as the name implies, busts up blood clots.
If you cannot take medications, your physician may recommend inserting a filter into the largest vein in the body, the vena cava. This is inserted through the abdomen and helps to break loose the blood clot to prevent further circulation of the embolism.
A long-term prevention method is wearing compression stockings. These stockings cover your feet and legs so as to keep pressure on your lower extremities. This pressure can help prevent the formation of blood clots.
No matter the severity of your embolism or where it is located, you can use any combination of methods to treat it directly and even prevent more embolisms from forming in the future.
No one wants to suffer from a treatable or preventable condition. With the right amount of exercise, nutrition, and medical care, you can avoid or mitigate your risk for this condition. If you suspect that you may be genetically predisposed to this condition, it is a good idea to seek the support of your physician to make a plan to ensure your continued health.
Due to the amount of time it takes for this condition to grow and pose a serious health risk, it should be treated with careful attention. The best way to prevent a blood clot is to regularly make sure blood is circulating in a healthy manner throughout your body.