What is deep vein thrombosis?


Know the basics

What is deep vein thrombosis?

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is an illness that develops when the blood clots in a vein. Affected veins are usually deep in leg muscles but can also be in other areas. The clots (thrombus) cause blood flow to slow. The area becomes swollen, red, and painful. If the clot moves to the lungs, a pulmonary embolism (blocked vein in the lungs) occurs and serious breathing problems can develop.

How common is deep vein thrombosis?

DVP can occur in anyone bit it is most common in people with aged over 60. Besides people who are physically inactive, pregnant or have blood disorders have higher risk of blood clotting. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Know the symptoms

What are the symptoms of deep vein thrombosis?

Only about half of the people who have DVT have signs and symptoms. These signs and symptoms occur in the leg affected by the deep vein clot. They include:

  • Swelling of the leg or along a vein in the leg
  • Pain or tenderness in the leg, which you may feel only when standing or walking
  • Increased warmth in the area of the leg that’s swollen or painful
  • Red or discolored skin on the leg

When should I see my doctor?

Some people are not aware of a deep vein clot until they have signs and symptoms of PE. Signs and symptoms of PE include:

  • Unexplained shortness of breath
  • Pain with deep breathing
  • Coughing up blood
  • Rapid breathing and a fast heart rate also may be signs of PE.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

Know the causes

What causes deep vein thrombosis?

Blood clots can form in your body’s deep veins if:

  • A vein’s inner lining is damaged. Injuries caused by physical, chemical, or biological factors can damage the veins. Such factors include surgery, serious injuries, inflammation, and immune responses.
  • Blood flow is sluggish or slow. Lack of motion can cause sluggish or slow blood flow. This may occur after surgery, if you’re ill and in bed for a long time, or if you’re traveling for a long time.
  • Your blood is thicker or more likely to clot than normal. Some inherited conditions (such as factor V Leiden) increase the risk of blood clotting. Hormone therapy or birth control pills also can increase the risk of clotting.

Know the risk factors

What increases my risk for deep vein thrombosis?

Many factors can increase your risk of developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT), and the more you have, the greater your risk. Risk factors for DVT include:

  • Inheriting a blood-clotting disorder. Some people inherit a disorder that makes their blood clot more easily. This inherited condition may not cause problems unless combined with one or more other risk factors.
  • Prolonged bed rest, such as during a long hospital stay, or paralysis. When your legs remain still for long periods, your calf muscles do not contract to help blood circulate, which can increase the risk of blood clots.
  • Injury or surgery. Injury to your veins or surgery can increase the risk of blood clots.
  • Pregnancy. Pregnancy increases the pressure in the veins in your pelvis and legs. Women with an inherited clotting disorder are especially at risk. The risk of blood clots from pregnancy can continue for up to six weeks after you have your baby.
  • Birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy. Birth control pills (oral contraceptives) and hormone replacement therapy both can increase your blood’s ability to clot.
  • Being overweight or obese. Being overweight increases the pressure in the veins in your pelvis and legs.
  • Smoking. Smoking affects blood clotting and circulation, which can increase your risk of DVT.
  • Cancer. Some forms of cancer increase the amount of substances in your blood that cause your blood to clot. Some forms of cancer treatment also increase the risk of blood clots.
  • Heart failure. People with heart failure have a greater risk of DVT and pulmonary embolism. Because people with heart failure already have limited heart and lung function, the symptoms caused by even a small pulmonary embolism are more noticeable.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease. Bowel diseases, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, increase the risk of DVT.
  • A personal or family history of deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism (PE). If you or someone in your family has had DVT or PE before, you’re more likely to develop DVT.
  • Age. Being over age 60 increases your risk of DVT, though it can occur at any age.
  • Sitting for long periods of time, such as when driving or flying. When your legs remain still for many hours, your calf muscles don’t contract, which normally helps blood circulate. Blood clots can form in the calves of your legs if your calf muscles are not moving for long periods.

Understand the diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is deep vein thrombosis diagnosed?

To diagnose DVT, your doctor will ask about symptoms and do an examination. If DVT is suspected, the doctor may recommend more tests to ensure the diagnosis.

  • Sonogram (ultrasound) of the swollen leg or other part to measure blood flow in the area.
  • Blood test (D-inner) measures a substance in the blood that’s released when a blood clot dissolves. If the test shows high levels of the substance, you may have a deep vein blood clot.

In rare cases when the diagnosis is suspected but sonogram and blood tests are inconclusive, the doctor may also do a special x-ray study (venography) in which a dye is injected into the vein to see whether a clot is blocking blood flow.

How is deep vein thrombosis treated?

Treatment is immediate injection of a blood thinner (heparin) to thin the blood and prevent growth of blood clots. Heparin can be given intravenously or injected under the skin (subcutaneously). Your doctor will decide which option is best for you. The doctor will also prescribe blood thinning pills (warfarin) to prevent the clot from enlarging and stop new ones from forming. For a few days, both heparin and warfarin are given. When warfarin reaches the desired level in blood, heparin will be stopped and warfarin will be continued, usually for 6 months, at time longer, depending on the cause of the DVT. Lifetime treatment may sometime be needed. You may need blood tests to make sure that the warfarin dose is correct.

Thrombin inhibitors may be used to treat blood clots if you cannot take heparin.

If you cannot take blood thinners or they are not working well, your doctor may recommend a vena cava filter. The filter is inserted inside a large vein called the vena cava. The filter catches blood clots before they travel to the lungs, which prevents pulmonary embolism. However, the filter does not stop new blood clots from forming

The doctor may also recommend special stockings to control swelling in the legs.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage deep vein thrombosis?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with deep vein thrombosis:

  • Take medicine and go for the blood test (INR) as directed by your doctor to monitor the blood thinner level.
  • Follow your doctor’s advice about losing weight and exercising more to lower your risk of recurrence of DVT.
  • Walk around and stretch your legs if you sit for long periods.
  • Call your doctor before you go one a long trip and ask your doctor about taking aspirin if you are no longer taking warfarin
  • Try to keep your legs elevated when sitting or lying down.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: May 30, 2016 | Last Modified: January 4, 2017