Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a condition that occurs when a blood clot forms in a deep vein in the body, usually the legs or sometimes the pelvis.
DVT is a serious condition because if the blood clots in the veins break loose, they can travel through the blood stream up to the lungs and block blood flow to the lungs. This is known as pulmonary embolism.
Other names that are associated with DVT include thromboembolism, post-phlebitic syndrome and post-thrombotic syndrome.
Causes of Deep Vein Thrombosis
DVT is caused by a blood clot. A blood clot is anything that prevents blood from flowing or clotting normally.
DVT can occur due to damage to a vein from trauma, surgery and inflammation as well as injury or infection.
Sometimes an individual can develop DVT without any clear cause but the person may be having an underlying condition or may be having one or more of the risk factors that contribute to DVT. DVT risk factors include:
- Injury: Damage to the veins can narrow or block blood flow and this can result in the formation of a clot.
- Inactivity: Prolonged periods of inactivity can cause blood to build-up in the lower limbs and pelvic area. This can result in blood clots forming in the calves of the legs.
- Genetics: An individual may have a genetic disorder that increases the risk of developing blood clots. One of these is the Factor V Leiden thrombophilia.
- Pregnancy: This increases pressure in the veins of the legs and pelvis.
- Smoking: This affects blood circulation and clotting which in-turn increases the risk of DVT.
- Medication: Certain medications can increase the chances of blood forming a clot.
Symptoms of Deep Vein Thrombosis
Symptoms of DVT only occur in about half of the individuals with the condition and they include:
- Swelling of the affected leg
- Pain in the leg which usually begins in the calf and feels like cramping
- Reddish or discolored skin over the affected area
- The skin on the affected areas feels warmer than the skin on the surrounding areas.
Some individuals may not be aware that they have DVT unless they undergo treatment for pulmonary embolism (blood clot in the lung).
Pulmonary embolism is a life-threatening condition and its symptoms include:
- Rapid pulse and breathing
- Shortness of breath
- Chest discomfort that worsens when taking deep breaths or coughing
- Coughing up blood
Emergency medical attention should be sort if you experience the above symptoms.
Diagnosis of Deep Vein Thrombosis
Diagnosing DVT involves the physician asking about the symptoms and performing a physical examination to check for any areas of tenderness, swelling and change in skin color.
In addition to the above he/she might recommend the following tests to check if you have low or high risk DVT or to rule out a blood clot:
- Ultrasound: This is used to detect alterations in blood flow, clots in veins and if the clot is acute or chronic.
- D-dimer test: D-dimer is a protein that is produced by a blood clot. Higher amounts of D-dimer in the blood could be an indicator of a possible blood clot.
- Venogram: If the D-dimer and ultrasound tests fail to produce enough information, venogram may be recommended. It involves injecting a dye into a vein in the groin, knee or foot with an x-ray tracking the movement of the dye to reveal the exact location of the blood clot.
- Other imaging scans: CT and MRI scan can detect the presence of a blood clot. These scans can identify blood clots while testing for other conditions.
Treatment of Deep Vein Thrombosis
Treatment for DVT focuses on preventing the clot from growing and breaking loose travelling to the lungs as well as reducing the chances of developing another DVT.
The treatment options for DVT include:
- Medications: Medications for DVT include blood thinners and clot busters.
Blood thinners also known as anticoagulants do not break-up existing blood clots, but they help in preventing the clots from getting larger and reducing the risks of developing more clots.
Clot busters also known as thrombolytics can be prescribed for serious DVT or pulmonary embolism.
- Compression stockings: These are recommended for individuals who are at a high risk for developing DVT as they can prevent swelling and lower the chances of developing blood clots. Compression stockings are worn on the legs from the feet up to the knee level.
- Filters: If you are unable to take medication to thin your blood, then you may need a filter to be put inside the large abdominal vein known as the vena cava. The filter helps in preventing pulmonary embolism as it stops clots from going to the lungs.
At King’s College Hospital Dubai, we focus on offering an exemplary service. From initial consultation through to final diagnosis, treatment and beyond. Our multidisciplinary team of expert doctors, nurses, cardiologists and technologists are here to offer tailored management and treatment of your condition, and to answer any questions that you may have throughout your time with us. Whatever you need us for, we’re only a phone-call away.