Called DVT for short, deep vein thrombosis occurs when a blood clot gets stuck in a vein, typically somewhere deep in your leg. In many cases you don't know it's there, but if left untreated, DVT can be deadly.
Anyone who's recently had surgery or is immobile for an extended period of time is at risk for deep vein thrombosis and should know the warning signs.
Only half of people with DVT experience symptoms. The most common include swelling in your leg, ankle, or foot that's usually only on one side. You may experience a cramping or pain that feels like soreness and is normally felt in the calf area. Sometimes there's severe pain in the ankle and foot as well. Your skin may feel warm to the touch and may turn a strange red, blue, or pale color. Call your doctor if you have any of these symptoms.
Treatment for DVT is vital to prevent further complications. Many times people don't know they've had DVT until the clot has dislodged and caused a pulmonary embolism. In this dangerous condition, the clot has left the vein and traveled through the blood to the lungs where it blocks the flow of blood.
Someone with a pulmonary embolism will know something's wrong. Symptoms include sudden shortness of breath, dizziness, fainting, sweating, chest pain, rapid heartbeat, and coughing up blood. Blocked blood flow to the lungs can cause lung damage or harm to other body parts. Emergency medical attention is necessary.
There are numerous risk factors for DVT. The more you have, the higher your chance of having deep vein thrombosis. As mentioned before, inactivity puts you at risk for DVT. During a long hospital stay, a disability, or a long airplane ride, your calf muscles aren't used and blood doesn't circulate from your legs, putting you at risk. However, an injury or surgery can also harm your veins and increase the likelihood of a clot forming.
All cases aren’t due to inactivity, injury, or surgery. Some people have a blood-clotting disorder that makes clots more likely. Additional risk factors include being pregnant or obese, taking birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy, smoking, living with inflammatory bowel disease, suffering certain cancers or heart failure, old age, and genetics.
Early detection and treatment of DVT will prevent further complications. The initial goal of treatment is to keep the clot from growing and breaking loose. When you're in the safe zone, treatment will focus on prevention of a recurrence.
Blood-thinning medication is usually the first line of treatment to thin the blood
and lessen its ability to clot, to keep a clot from growing, and to prevent new clots from forming. As a second line of treatment, clot-busting medications are given either intravenously or through a catheter, aimed directly at an existing clot in an effort to break it up. Since this treatment comes with serious risk, it's only given as a last resort option.
When medications aren't an option, a filter may be placed in your vena cava vein (large vein that carries blood to the heart from the lower and middle parts of the body) to prevent dislodged clots from reaching your lungs.
Compression stockings are another form of treatment designed to help people deal with leg swelling that comes with DVT. These stockings reach up to the knees and help prevent blood from pooling in your lower legs and clotting.
Maybe you've had DVT before, are at risk, or just don't want it to happen to you. Here are a few things you can do to help prevent DVT: don't smoke, maintain a healthy weight, live an active lifestyle, keep your blood pressure within a healthy range, and when you're on a long car ride or flight, take breaks to stretch and move your legs.