What is DVT?

Your body’s circulatory system has a big job to do, as it circulates oxygen rich blood from your heart to your extremities and then deoxygenated blood back to your heart. Sometimes this system malfunctions and when it does it can be quite serious. One of the problems that can occur is called deep vein thrombosis, or DVT. 

DVT happens to 900,000 people in the U.S. each year, causing illness, disability, and even death. What is a DVT? What are the warning signs? Here’s what you need to know about DVT.

What is DVT?

DVT is a blood clot that forms in the venous system. The blood clot is called a thrombosis and it occurs most often in veins of the legs. Seek help immediately if you believe you have the symptoms of DVT.

Each year 100,000 people die from a DVT that travel through your heart to your lung and is then called a pulmonary embolism, or PE. Research from 2020 shows that, “After nearly a decade of decline, the death rate from lung clots (PEs) is now on the rise, particularly among African Americans and people under the age of 65.” Researchers were not certain why there was a racial component to these numbers. They are certain, however, that obesity plays a factor in the rising numbers.

How will you know if you have a DVT? Are the symptoms of a PE different from those of a DVT? We have answers.

A woman shows off her thigh that has a visible deep vein thrombosis (DVT) blood clot

What are the signs I have a DVT?

Sometimes, a DVT can occur and you have no symptoms at all. However, if you notice:

  • A sudden onset of arm or leg swelling that occurs for no discernable reason
  • Blue or red areas on the skin
  • Soreness or pain in your legs, hips or groin when you stand up and walk
  • Warmth in that area that is painful to the touch

Do not ignore these signs. If the blood clot breaks loose it can travel to your brain, heart, or lung. This is a PE, which is highly dangerous. When DVT and PE occur together it’s called a venous thromboembolism (VTE). 

Signs of VTE include:

  • A racing heartbeat
  • Chest pain that worsens when you take a deeper breath
  • Coughing (may or may not be coughing up blood)
  • Difficulty catching your breath
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Fainting

Don’t wait for an appointment if you have these signs; call 911.

A series of x-ray images that show what a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) blood clot looks like inside the vein

How Will My Doctor Diagnose DVT?

The first step is to confirm you are experiencing DVT. Your doctor will examine your legs for symptoms and ask you questions about your symptoms as well as the risk factors that make you a candidate for the condition. 

Your doctor may run a few tests to confirm the diagnosis. This includes:

  • A D-dimer blood test that looks for rising levels of this type of protein produced by blood clots
  • A duplex ultrasound uses sound waves to create pictures of how blood is flowing through your veins
  • CT venogram. Venography uses dye and X-rays to get a good picture of the vein structures in your feet and legs

The venography is the most invasive of these tests, and it is typically not needed. Usually we use the D-dimer or ultrasound to accurately diagnose the DVT condition. Once the condition is diagnosed, treatment can occur.

A provider uses an imaging system to look at the inner, clotted vein

What Treatments Are Available for DVT?

The goals of DVT treatment include:

  • Stop the clot from growing larger
  • Stop the clot from breaking loose and traveling in the bloodstream
  • Reduce the chances of having another DVT incident

DVT is typically treated with blood thinner medications (anticoagulants). This treatment can meet all three goals; however, you may also need thrombolytics (clot busters) to break up the clot. If you can’t take these medications you may be fitted with a filter inserted into a large vein to prevent the clot from making it to your lungs if it dislodges.

A woman puts on compression socks to help with her deep vein thrombosis (DVT)

Can I Prevent DVT?

You can lessen your risk of developing DVT, but anything that disrupts the proper flow of blood deep within the veins can cause a blood clot to form. For example, if you have major surgery, or are seriously injured, the body’s veins can be damaged. However, even aging can put you more at risk for a blood clot. 

The risk factors for DVT include:

  • If you’re over 60 the risk is higher
  • A lack of movement in the legs for a long period of time
  • An injury that damages your veins
  • Being obese or overweight
  • Cancer can increase blood clotting issues
  • Heart failure 
  • Inflammatory bowel disease in the form of ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s Disease
  • Pregnancy
  • Hormone replacement therapy 
  • Infection and inflammation in the body
  • Oral contraceptives
  • Smoking
  • Surgery 

If you have a family history of blood clotting disorders and you also have any of these other risk factors, it’s a good idea to see your doctor to discuss your risk of DVT. Genetics can cause some people to be even more at risk because the normal functions of clotting are disrupted.

Staying active is always important, but when it comes to vein health, keeping your legs moving lessens your risk of DVT. As your legs move, the calves contract and expand and this motion keeps the blood flowing. That’s why doctors recommend that you get up every few hours on a long plane flight and walk the aisles. Sitting for too long can increase the DVT risk. 

This issue is a big problem for people who are on long-term bed rest. Compression stockings can help prevent blood from settling in the legs and feet in these cases.

If you’re worried about DVT or other types of vein dysfunction, please reach out to the team at Ellison Vein Institute. We’re here to help.

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