As many as 900,000 people in the U.S. are affected by deep vein thrombosis (or DVT) every year. Even worse, an estimated 60,000 to 100,000 people die due to deep vein thrombosis. Considering these troubling statistics, it’s important to know what deep vein thrombosis is, and how to spot it when it happens.
What Is Deep Vein Thrombosis?
Deep vein thrombosis, or DVT, happens when a blood clot forms in one of your body’s deep veins. This typically happens in the legs.
Deep vein thrombosis can cause your leg to swell up, and is accompanied by pain. This pain can often be debilitating. You’re more susceptible to deep vein thrombosis if you have certain medical conditions, or if you’re confined to your bed after surgery or an accident.
While it’s most common to find them in your legs, they can be present in other locations as well. For example, hemorrhoids are varicose veins in the rectal region. About one in 20 Americans suffer from hemorrhoids.
The Dangers of DVT
Deep vein thrombosis becomes potentially deadly if the blood clot breaks loose and travels through your bloodstream.
This can cause the blood clot to get caught in your lungs. If this happens it inhibits blood flow, known as a pulmonary embolism. In the worst cases, this could lead to death.
What Are the Warning Signs of Deep Vein Thrombosis?
There are a few typical symptoms and warning signs to look out for when it comes to DVT.
- Leg pain. This pain may start in the calf. It starts as a cramping feeling, and often feels sore
- Discolored, red leg skin
- Warmth in the affected leg, often accompanied by pain and discoloration.
- Foot and ankle pain that can’t be explained
- Swelling in the leg, ankle, foot
It’s important to note that DVT doesn’t always present symptoms. Many people discover they have DVT after orthopedic or other surgical procedures. If you see any symptoms or suspect DVT, it’s important to visit a doctor as fast as possible.
You can also get upper extremity DVT — DVT in the arm.
Some symptoms of this include:
- Shoulder & neck pain
- Arm & hand swelling
- Blue-colored skin
- Moving pain from the arm to the forearm
- Hand weakness
Again, it’s important to visit the doctor right away if you notice any of these symptoms without another explanation. Deep vein thrombosis in the arm is much less common than in the lower extremity and can usually be directly related to a procedure or indwelling intravenous line in the arm.
How is Deep Vein Thrombosis Diagnosed?
A vascular specialist will inquire about your symptoms in order to diagnose you with DVT in addition to a physical exam. This typically involves checking your heart and lungs, as well as your legs for warmth, swelling, building veins, or skin discoloration.
Your doctor might ask you such questions as:
- What medications do you take?
- DO you have any swelling or leg pain?
- Have you had a blood clot before?
- Have you had surgery recently or been on any long trips lately?
Tests often used to diagnose a blood clot include:
- Duplex ultrasound: A very common, noninvasive test that utilizes sound waves to create an image of how the blood is moving through your veins. An ultrasound technician will gently pass a small hand-held device over your skin, while applying pressure, where the clot is presumed to be located and how large it is. It can also determine if the the blood clot is a recent development or a chronic condition.
- D-dimer blood test: designed to detect the level of D dimer in your blood. This is a protein generated by a blood clot. A negative test result means there is probably no blood clot present. Other conditions can bring on high D-dimer including heart disease and pregnancy.
- Venography: a dye is injected into a large vein in either your foot or ankle which is picked up by an X-ray. Venography produces very accurate results but the procedure is rather invasive. Because of this, it has largely been replaced by the duplex ultrasound.
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan: used to detect and diagnose deep vein thrombosis in the veins of the abdomen using radio waves and a magnetic field. While an MRI and computed tomography (CT) scans can offer images of your veins and any clots, they aren’t
At Virginia Vein Care, we have an expert ultrasound technician on staff to perform a Duplex Ultrasound which is noninvasive and uses no radiation.
It is important to point out that other conditions have symptoms similar to DVT. Muscle injuries, cellulitis, lymphedema, and vein inflammation tend to resemble the signs of deep vein thrombosis
What Causes Deep Vein Thrombosis?
Deep vein thrombosis is a medical term for referring to a blood clot in the leg. To get to the source of the issue, though, we have to look at how these blood clots form.
- Sometimes, surgery or a direct injury can damage blood vessels. This increases the chances of a blood clot developing, although direct damage to a blood vessel is uncommon. More commonly, blood clots may form if you’ve had a surgery that leaves you in bed or if you are immobilized following an illness.
- Age — particularly, being over 60 — increases your chance of blood clots.
- Inactivity can cause blood to collect in your legs, leading to a blood clot. This can happen if you work a desk job and don’t move your legs enough, if you’re generally inactive, or if you can’t move due to an injury.
- Pregnancy raises your chance of a blood clot, as it increases pressure in the veins in your legs. You can also inherit blood-clotting disorders from your relatives.
- Some medications explicitly increase the chances of blood clots, including certain types of birth control. Ask your doctor if any of your medications have this effect.
- Finally, obesity and smoking also increase your chances of developing DVT. Being overweight means more pressure on your veins and legs, while smoking affects your circulation.
As you can see, there are a lot of different factors that can cause DVT. Familiarize yourself with them to best avoid developing DVT.
Do Varicose Veins Have Any Relation to DVT?
Research shows us that varicose veins may increase the chances of getting DVT.
Varicose veins are enlarged, sometimes twisted, swollen veins. You can see and feel them under the skin. They are most common in the legs, but can happen almost anywhere.
People with varicose veins are around five times more likely to develop DVT, according to one study. As already noted, overweight people are more likely to get varicose veins, as well as people over the age of 65 — both of these factors also increase the chances of DVT.
Treating & Preventing Deep Vein Thrombosis
The best way to prevent DVT from ever happening is to stay active.
Make sure to exercise your legs every day. If you have a desk job, or tend to sit for long periods of time, stand up and move your legs occasionally. Raise your knees, do ankle circles, and take walks when you can.
You can also wear graduated compression stockings. These fit snugly on your feet, and less tightly as they go up the leg. They help prevent blood from pooling in the legs, thus increasing blood flow and preventing blood clots. These are usually only necessary if you’re at high risk of DVT.
If you have DVT, a doctor may prescribe a blood thinner to help solve the problem.
Blood thinners reduce your chances of clotting and keep existing clots from growing. If you are hospitalized, your doctor may also prescribe thrombolytic drugs, which break up blood clots. This is an intravenous solution.
As mentioned before, compression stockings are another common prevention and treatment method. Your doctor may recommend you start wearing them.
In some cases, the doctor will install a filter into your vena cava, a large abdominal vein. Doing this prevents clots from moving into your lungs. The filter is often removed after a period of time, as they can increase your chances of DVT if left in too long.
Deep Vein Thrombosis: Know the Signs
The more you know about deep vein thrombosis, the better equipped you’ll be to deal with it. Stay active, watch your weight, and find out if you have a family history of DVT.
Virginia Vein Care is here to help treat your varicose, spider veins, and more. If you have any questions, call us at (703) 775-1616.