Diagnosing and Treating Deep Vein Thrombosis

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot in a vein deep inside the body. The clot may interfere with circulation and break off and travel through the bloodstream where it could lodge in the brain, lungs, heart or other area and cause damage. DVT usually occurs in the lower leg, thigh or pelvis. Sometimes, the veins of the arms are affected.

According to the National Institutes of Health, DVT occurs in about one out of every 1,000 people in the United States each year. One to five percent of those affected by DVT will die from complications.

Risk Factors

General risk factors of DVT include:

  • Age 40 and above
  • Immobility
  • Recent surgery or trauma
  • Having a blood-clotting disorder
  • Childbirth within the last six months
  • Hormone therapy or using oral contraceptives
  • History of miscarriage
  • Obesity
  • Using tobacco
  • Previous DVT or family history of DVT
  • Previous or current cancer

Symptoms

Common symptoms of DVT include:

  • Leg pain, tenderness, swelling or fatigue
  • Warm skin
  • Surface veins become more visible
  • Skin discoloration or redness

Detection and Diagnosis

If DVT is suspected, several imaging tests can be used to screen for DVT, including:

  • Ultrasound
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) 
  • Venography / phlebography (an X-ray that identifies the veins and blood clots) 

Treatments

It is possible for DVT to resolve itself, but there is a risk of recurrence. To help reduce the pain and swelling that can occur with DVT, patients are often told to elevate their legs, use a heating pad, take walks and wear compression stockings. In addition, several treatment options are available:

  • Blood Thinner Medication — DVT can often be treated with blood thinners, or anticoagulants. Blood thinners make it harder for your blood to clot, but they don’t break up existing clots.
  •  Thrombolysis — This is a minimally invasive procedure designed to rapidly break up blood clots, restore blood flow and prevent damage. During the procedure, medication or a special medical device are guided to the clot through a catheter to dissolve the blockage.
  • Filters — Patients who cannot take blood thinners or those who have recurrent clots while on medication can have a medical device implanted into a large vein in the abdomen called the vena cava. The filter prevents clots causing blockages in the lungs. This is a less common treatment.
  • Surgery — Surgery to remove the blood clot is considered only in rare cases when the clot is very large, blocking a major blood vessel and causing severe symptoms. Surgery increases the risk of developing new blood clots.

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