Deep vein thrombosis or DVT is a blood clot that forms in a vein deep inside your body. Most deep vein clots occur in the lower leg, thigh, or pelvis, but can occur in other parts of your body as well. A DVT can break free and move through your bloodstream and get stuck in a blood vessel of your lung. This is called a pulmonary embolism, which can make breathing difficult and even cause death. A pulmonary embolism is an emergency and needs to be treated right away.
Not everyone with DVT shows symptoms. But you might notice any of the following:
- Leg or arm swelling that comes on without warning
- Pain or soreness when you stand or walk
- Warmth in the area that hurts
- Enlarged veins
- Skin that looks red or inflamed
Some specific causes of DVT include:
- Inactivity, such as after a major operation or during a flight
- Damage to a vein can cause a clot to form – especially damage from a catheter, like those used in dialysis, or from a PICC line
- Cancer and certain other diseases and genetic conditions, called hypercoagulable states, that cause your blood to clot more easily
- Medications, especially hormone therapy
You will be asked questions about symptoms and medical history. The vascular surgeon will perform a physical exam and a venous ultrasound to look for signs of DVT.
Blood thinners, also known as anticoagulants, are the most common medicines used for treating DVT. They prevent blood clots from getting larger by decreasing your blood’s ability to clot. Over time, your body works with the blood thinners to decrease the size and consistency of the clot. Blood thinners can be taken as a pill, as an injection or intravenously (through an IV). Blood thinners can increase your chance of bleeding, so careful follow-up with your vascular surgeon is necessary.
Thrombolytic therapy is sometimes used to quickly dissolve a blood clot, especially if the clot is large and causing severe symptoms. This treatment brings a much higher risk of bleeding than blood thinners, so it is not used unless truly necessary.
An IVC filter placed inside the inferior vena cava, one of the largest veins in the body, may be an option. The filter does not stop a blood clot from forming, but can prevent a large clot from entering your lungs.