Deep Vein Thrombosis
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot that partially or completely blocks blood flow through a vein deep in the body, particularly the lower leg, thigh, or pelvis. DVT puts people at a higher risk of a pulmonary embolism due to the fact that a piece of clot can break free from its original location, travel through the bloodstream, and block blood flow to the lungs.
IMPORTANT NOTE: This overview is provided for informational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for talking with your doctor. Be sure to talk with your doctor for a complete discussion of this condition as well as the benefits and risks of any treatment options.
DVT commonly occurs in just one leg or one arm. Only about half the people who have DVT experience symptoms. When present, symptoms may include:
- Swelling of the leg or arm (sometimes suddenly)
- Pain or tenderness in the leg that may only be present when standing or walking
- Feeling of increased warmth in the area of the leg or arm that is swollen or that hurts
- Redness or discoloration of the skin
- Enlargement of the superficial veins (just below the skin) in the affected leg or arm
If your doctor suspects a blood clot in a deep vein, he/she doctor may:
- ask you or a family member about your risk factors, such as high blood pressure, smoking, heart disease, and a personal or family history of blood clots
- ask about your signs and symptoms and when they began
- conduct a physical examination
Your doctor may order one or more of the following tests:
- Computed tomography (CT) scan uses a combination of X-rays and computer technology to produce images of the body. CT with contrast, a dye-like substance, enhances the image of the organ or tissue under study.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses a combination of a magnetic field, radio frequencies, and a computer to make detailed images of organs and structures within the body.
- Duplex venous ultrasound is used to evaluate the blood flow in the veins and to detect the presence and specific location of blood clots. During the test, the technologist applies pressure when scanning your arm or leg. If the vein does not compress, it may indicate a blood clot is present.
- Venography is used to examine the deep veins via X-rays. During the procedure, contrast is injected into the veins, making the veins, blood clot, and possibly blocked blood visible on the X-ray.
- Blood tests are used to check the blood’s clotting status. Other blood work may include testing for genetic disorders that may contribute to abnormal clotting of the blood.
Treatment for this condition must always be discussed with your doctor
for a full discussion of options, risks, benefits, and other information.
Oral anticoagulants, also known as blood thinners, are the standard treatment for DVT. These may prevent new clots from forming by reducing your body’s ability to clot. However, you may still feel the symptoms due to existing clot.
Compression stockings are also recommended as part of standard treatment. These are prescribed to help reduce leg pain and swelling.
Endovascular intervention is another option, one that may help prevent post-thrombotic syndrome (chronic leg pain and swelling). Treatment consists of one or a combination of two basic approaches to restore proper blood flow: 1) an injection of a clot-busting drug, and 2) mechanical thrombectomy, a minimally-invasive procedure that physically removes clot from blocked arteries.