You would be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t know what a heart attack is. In simple terms, a heart attack happens when blood clots block the flow of blood to the heart muscle.
Lesser known is another type of blood clot that kills up to 100,000 people in the U.S. each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a type of clot that forms in a major vein of the leg or less commonly in the arms, pelvis or other large veins in the body.
Easy to diagnose
DVT is often getting started well before it can be felt. It is a serious condition because the clot in a vein may detach and travel through the heart to the lungs. If it becomes wedged in the lungs, it can prevent adequate blood flow, a potentially fatal condition.
Diagnosis of DVT is easy, but recognizing the symptoms is key, according to Dr. Tae Gardner, Marshfield Clinic Health System vascular and interventional radiologist.
“Diagnosis is quite simple with an ultrasound of the deep veins of the leg,” said Dr. Gardner.
Common symptoms for DVT include swelling, pain and tenderness in the leg; a tired, heavy feeling in the leg; abnormal coloring; or surface veins becoming more visible, according to Dr. Gardner.
Determining risk for deep vein thrombosis
Factors that increase risk for developing DVT include immobility for long periods due to bed rest, hospitalization and even a long plane ride or car trip. According to Dr. Gardner, those who have had a recent surgery or trauma, cancer or a current infection also present with a higher risk.
Having a personal history of previous deep vein thrombosis or a family history of DVT places someone at a higher risk for developing DVT as well.
Typical treatment depends on the situation but usually consists of blood thinners and anticoagulants, which is medicine that keeps the blood from clotting.
If the clot does not respond to medication, a procedure known as a thrombectomy can remove the clot through catheters, similar to the treatment for narrowed or blocked coronary vessels.
Reducing risks for future issues
Making sure one DVT does not lead to another after care is critical for patients. Good habits to help prevent another DVT include:
- Staying active to improve blood flow.
- Limiting the amount of time spent sitting.
- Staying at a healthy weight.
- Drinking plenty of water.
Even more critical is ensuring those who have had extensive DVTs reduce the risk for post thrombotic syndrome (PTS), Dr. Gardner said.
“Patients that have extensive DVTs above the knee are at risk for chronic venous disease that develops despite DVT treatment with anticoagulation,” he said.
PTS symptoms include chronic leg pain, swelling, redness and ulcers.
“The biggest danger of DVT is that it could lead to pulmonary embolism (PE), which can be life-threatening,” Dr. Gardner said. “Pulmonary embolism is the third leading cause of cardiovascular death. About 50% of above-knee DVT patients develop PTS and nearly 90% of PTS patients will be unable to work 10 years after diagnosis.”
If you’re experiencing symptoms that you believe could be DVT, contact your doctor and request an appointment.