DVT: Dangers & Treatments

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) occurs when a clot, or thrombus, forms in the deep veins of the body, particularly in the legs. There are many factors that influence the formation of a blood clot, and some people are simply more predisposed to developing one. Although there are treatments available, there are serious repercussions if DVT is left untreated—and potential complications even when it is. 

Risk Factors

The circulatory system is a fragile thing. It is responsible for sending blood, and therefore oxygen, all over the body to keep it functioning properly. One culprits of clot formulation is an inherited blood disorder. Some people’s blood simply clots more easily. For example, Factor V Leiden is an inherited disorder in which there is too much vitamin K, one of the main components of the clotting process, in the body.

Changing hormones during pregnancy or because of medications like birth control are also potentially problematic. Insufficient movement from a sedentary job or lifestyle, long periods of sitting during travel, or being confined to bed rest following a surgery or illness can all decrease blood flow sufficiently in the legs to increase the chances of clotting. 

Symptoms and Complications

Because it does not always come with warning signs, people with these risk factors should be more careful than most. When DVT does present symptoms, there may be swelling and a cramping in the area surrounding the clot. Even after the issue is dealt with, postphlebitic syndrome may appear because of the damage to the tissue and vessels in the area where the clot was. Swelling, pain, sores, or discoloration may also occur.

The most dangerous of the problems associated with DVT is pulmonary embolism. With this condition, rather than cutting off blood flow in the leg, the clot gets loose and travels around the body until it winds up in one of the major blood vessels of the lungs. This potentially fatal problems requires immediate medical attention. Signs of a pulmonary embolism include difficulty breathing, chest pain, coughing up blood, dizziness, and a rapid heartbeat. 

Treatment

Luckily, DVT can be dealt with. The goal of treatment is to prevent the clot from enlarging or from getting loose and moving around, followed by preventative measures to avoid a recurrence. An injection of a blood thinner, such as heparin, is generally given, as well as a prescription anticoagulant for long-term use. There are several options for anticoagulants. Speak with your doctor to figure out which option is the best for you. In some cases, particularly severe clots may require a thrombolytic mediation. Thrombolytics are used only in intensive care, emergency situations (such as in the case of a pulmonary embolism), and are injected through a catheter directly into the clot to break it up before it can cause damage or death.

When medications are not an appropriate option, a filter can be placed in the large vein that leads to the abdomen to catch clots that are moving around before they reach the lungs. Compression stockings may be needed to help prevent swelling, as well as avoid the complications of postphlebitic syndrome and to decrease the chances of developing DVT again.

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