Deep vein thrombosis , commonly referred to as DVT occurs when a blood clot enters the large veins of the legs or pelvic area. They may be painful, but some may be completely asymptomatic. The majority of DVT’s are not life-threatening. A clot that forms in the large deep veins may break free and travel through the vein. It then becomes an embolus. An embolus can travel from the legs or pelvis to the lungs. This is known as a pulmonary embolism or PE. A PE is a potentially fatal condition if not diagnosed and treated.
Approximately 50% of those with DVT have no recognizable symptoms. Leg pain, especially in the calf, is one of the most common symptoms. Symptoms may also include, swelling, associated warmth and redness in the affected extremity. Symptoms may appear suddenly or progress slowly over time.
If the clot breaks loose and becomes a PE, symptoms include chest pain, shortness of breath, rapid pulse, or a cough. There may also be a feeling of apprehension, sweating or fainting. These symptoms are critical and demand immediate medical attention.
- Prolonged bed rest (during or after a surgical procedure or illness)
- Being confined and unable to walk (during prolonged car or air travel)
- Having a history of blood clots
- Patients with active cancer or are undergoing cancer treatment
- Certain medical conditions (severe obesity, congestive heart failure, severe obesity, chronic respiratory failure, a history of smoking, varicose veins, pregnancy, and estrogen treatment
How it is Diagnosed:
When DVT is suspected through clinical examination, diagnostic testing is then indicated. An ultrasound scan is usually ordered because it is non-invasive and high accurated. A specific blood test may be performed to measure “D-dimer” as a sign of recent clotting. If this test is negative, it is very unlikely that you have suffered a DVT.
For patients with DVT, graduated compression stockings are usually prescribed. Leg elevation and anticoagulation medications are also warranted. Blood thinners prevent further clots from forming and decrease the risk of a PE. Some patients may require hospitalization. In severe cases, the physician may recommend thrombolysis, which is the use of an intravenous medication that dissolves clots.
Is air travel safe for those with DVT?
Patients who have had or do have a DVT and are considering travel by air or car should wear prescription-strength compression stockings. We also recommend walking every 30 minutes if possible. Calf exercises while sitting are also helpful. If travel is more that 4 hours, those individuals who are not on blood thinners may benefit from receiving a dose of a low-molecular weight heparin to prevent blood clots.
How can I prevent DVT?
- If you will be sitting for a long period of time, exercise your lower leg muscles.
- If you have had recent surgery or a prolonged illness, try to get out of bed and move around as soon as possible.
- Take medications to prevent.