Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a serious condition that causes blood to clot in one or more of your veins. The deep veins of your leg are most commonly affected, and even small blood clots will impair the flow of blood to your heart. A potentially life-threatening complication of DVT is pulmonary embolism. This occurs when a clot breaks up and a piece travels to your lungs and causes a blockage. Signs of a pulmonary embolism include dizziness, chest pain and shortness of breath. Here's an overview of the causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment approach for DVT:
Causes And Symptoms
There are a number of factors that can increase your risk of developing a blood clot, such as having limited mobility, undergoing any surgery requiring general anaesthesia or having a medical condition that affects your circulation. Pregnancy and being obese are also risk factors, as increased pressure in the deep veins of your legs can obstruct normal blood flow. Additionally, smoking can damage your circulatory system, and oral contraceptives make your blood more susceptible to clotting.
In the early stages of DVT, you may not notice any warning signs. However, there are a few common symptoms of DVT to be aware of, such as leg swelling and calf pain. It's also common to experience localised reddening of the skin, and the affected area may also feel warm to the touch.
Diagnosis And Treatment Approach
DVT is diagnosed by examining any areas of swelling and taking a sample of your blood, as those with blood clots tend to have raised levels of D dimer, which is a protein fragment found in your blood that suggests clots have formed. You will also undergo a vascular ultrasound, which is a form of diagnostic imaging that uses sound waves to assess blood vessel and circulatory health. A vascular ultrasound can allow your doctor to pinpoint the location of a blood clot, measure the clot and determine the severity of damage to the walls of the affected vein.
When you're diagnosed with DVT, the goal of treatment is to prevent further clots from forming and to minimise the risk of the existing clot breaking up, which could cause a pulmonary embolism. You may be prescribed oral or intramuscular blood thinning medication, such as heparin, and you will be measured for custom-made compression stockings, which reduce swelling and help support the vein walls. If you have several clots, which can increase your chance of developing a pulmonary embolism, you may need to have a filter surgically placed in the vena cava, which is a major vein in the centre of your abdomen. If a clot breaks up and travels along your bloodstream, a filter would prevent it from reaching your lungs and causing a blockage.
When you're pregnant, prescribed drugs that affect your circulatory system or scheduled for any type of surgery, your risk of developing a DVT will be assessed by your doctor or anaesthetist. However, if you experience any of the symptoms associated with DVT, you should schedule an urgent appointment with your doctor and undergo diagnostic testing.