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Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)

Definition

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a condition in which a blood clot (thrombus) forms in one or more of the deep veins in your body, usually in your legs. Deep vein thrombosis can cause leg pain, but often occurs without any symptoms.

Deep vein thrombosis can develop if you're sitting still for a long time, such as when traveling by plane or car, or if you have certain medical conditions that affect how your blood clots.

Deep vein thrombosis is a serious condition because a blood clot that has formed in your vein can break loose, travel through your bloodstream and lodge in your lungs, blocking blood flow (pulmonary embolism).

Symptoms

In about half of all cases, deep vein thrombosis occurs without any noticeable symptoms.

When deep vein thrombosis symptoms occur, they can include:

Swelling in the affected leg, including swelling in your ankle and foot.
Pain in your leg; this can include pain in your ankle and foot. The pain often starts in your calf and can feel like cramping or a charley horse.
Warmth over the affected area.
Changes in your skin color, such as turning pale, red or blue.
When to see a doctor
If you develop signs or symptoms of deep vein thrombosis, contact your doctor for guidance.

If you develop signs or symptoms of a pulmonary embolism — a life-threatening complication of deep vein thrombosis — seek medical attention immediately.

The warning signs of a pulmonary embolism include:

Unexplained sudden onset of shortness of breath
Chest pain or discomfort that worsens when you take a deep breath or when you cough
Feeling lightheaded or dizzy, or fainting
Rapid pulse
Sweating
Coughing up blood
A sense of anxiety or nervousness
Causes

Deep vein thrombosis occurs when a blood clot forms in the veins that are deep in your body, often in your legs. Blood clots can be caused by many different things — namely anything that causes your blood not to circulate normally or clot properly.

Treatment & Drugs

The goal of deep vein thrombosis treatment is threefold:

Stopping your blood clot from getting any bigger
Preventing the clot from breaking loose and causing a pulmonary embolism
Reducing your chances of deep vein thrombosis happening again
Deep vein thrombosis treatment options include:

Blood thinners. Medications used to treat deep vein thrombosis include the use of anticoagulants, also sometimes called blood thinners, whenever possible. These are drugs that decrease your blood's ability to clot. While they don't break up existing blood clots, they can prevent clots from getting bigger or reduce your risk of developing additional clots.

Typically, you'll first be given a shot or infusion of the blood thinner heparin for a few days. After starting heparin injections, your treatment may be followed by another blood thinner in pill form, such as warfarin (Coumadin) or rivaroxaban (Xarelto). You may need to take blood thinners for three months or longer.

If you're prescribed heparin or warfarin, take your medication exactly as your doctor instructs. Both medications can have serious side effects, such as an increased risk of bleeding, if you take too much. On the other hand, if your dose is too low, you're at increased risk of additional blood clots. You'll need periodic blood tests to check how long it takes your blood to clot. Pregnant women shouldn't take warfarin.

Clotbusters. If you have a more serious type of deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism, or if other medications aren't working, your doctor may try other medications.

One group of medications is known as thrombolytics. These drugs, such as tissue plasminogen activator (TPA), are given through an intravenous (IV) line to break up blood clots. These drugs can cause serious bleeding and are typically used only in life-threatening situations.

Filters. If you can't take medicines to thin your blood, a filter may be inserted into a large vein — the vena cava — in your abdomen. This filter prevents clots that break loose from lodging in your lungs. The filters are sometimes referred to as umbrellas because they look like the wire spokes of an umbrella.
Compression stockings. These help prevent swelling associated with deep vein thrombosis. These stockings are worn on the leg from your foot to about the level of your knee. This pressure helps reduce the chances that your blood will pool and clot. You should wear these stockings for at least a year if possible.
Lifestyle & Home Remedies

The primary goal of your self-care plan should be preventing deep vein thrombosis from occurring.

To prevent deep vein thrombosis from worsening or happening again:

Check in with your doctor regularly to see if your medication or treatments need to be modified.
Watch how much vitamin K you're eating if you take blood thinners. Vitamin K can affect how drugs such as warfarin work. Foods high in vitamin K include green leafy vegetables and canola and soybean oils.
Exercise your lower calf muscles if you'll be sitting a long time. Whenever possible, get up and walk around. If you can't get up to walk around, try raising and lowering your heels while keeping your toes on the floor, then raising your toes while your heels are on the floor.
Move. If you've been on bed rest, because of surgery or other factors, the sooner you get moving, the less likely blood clots will develop.
Make lifestyle changes. Lose weight, quit smoking and control your blood pressure. Obesity, smoking and high blood pressure all increase your risk of deep vein thrombosis.
Wear compression stockings to help prevent blood clots in the legs if your doctor recommends them.
Be on the lookout for excessive bleeding, which can be a side effect of taking medications such as blood thinners. Talk to your doctor about activities that could cause you to bruise or get cut, as even a minor injury could become serious if you're taking blood thinners.


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