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What is Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), and Am I at Risk?

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Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is often associated with leg pain and swelling; however, it can cause more severe health risks, disability, and in the most severe cases, it can be fatal. It is also known as thromboembolism, post-thrombotic syndrome, and postphlebitic syndrome. Since anyone can develop this condition during their lifetime, and sometimes not exhibit obvious symptoms, it is crucial to understand what DVT is and what may put you at risk of this dangerous condition.

What is Deep Vein Thrombosis?

A thrombus is a blood clot. A blood clot can form when blood moves too slowly through your veins, and a group of blood cells clump together and form a solid. When a blood clot forms within one or more of the deep veins in your body, it is called deep vein thrombosis. Such clots often occur in the lower leg, thigh, or pelvis; however, DVT can occur in other parts of the body, such as the arm.

What are the Symptoms of Deep Vein Thrombosis?

Only about half of patients with DVT experience any symptoms. DVT in the leg can cause:

  • Leg pain, cramping, or tenderness that may start in the calf and can feel like general soreness or cramping
  • Swelling in the foot, ankle, or leg, typically on one side
  • Warmth and tenderness over the vein
  • Skin that appears pale, red or blue

Upper extremity DVT, such as in the arm, can cause:

  • Neck or shoulder pain
  • Swelling in the hand or arm
  • Hand weakness
  • Blue tinged skin
  • Pain that travels from the arm to the forearm

Risk Factors for Deep Vein Thrombosis

Some of the factors that may increase your risk of developing DVT include immobility, pregnancy, and some hormone therapies. Patients confined to a bed during an illness or after an injury, are also at risk.

Complications of Deep Vein Thrombosis

If a blood clot causes the vein to swell, the condition is called thrombophlebitis. Approximately 33 to 50 percent of DVT patients experience long-term complications when a blood clot damages the valves in the vein. This condition is called post-thrombotic syndrome (PTS). PTS symptoms include swelling, pain, and discoloration. In severe cases, PTS can cause scaling or ulcers in the affected body part, and in the most severe cases, the patient can become disabled.

If the clot breaks loose and travels into the lungs, it can block an artery and cause a severe health risk called a pulmonary embolism, which can be fatal. The symptoms of a pulmonary embolism include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Raised heart rate
  • Chest pain that exacerbates upon taking a deep breath
  • Coughing up blood

Treatment Options for DVT and When to Get Help

Treatment for DVT may include medicine to mitigate the pain and inflammation symptoms, break up clots, and keep new clots from forming. Your doctor might also recommend that you frequently raise the affected area and apply moist heat. Patients with DVT who must take a long trip by car or plane are encouraged to walk or stretch as frequently as possible and stay hydrated.

If you are experiencing pain and discomfort, particularly in your lower leg, and you believe that you might be suffering from DVT, make an appointment with your doctor today. Also, contact your physician if you think that you are experiencing symptoms associated with a pulmonary embolism.