Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) is a condition that occurs when a blood clot forms in one of the deeper veins of the leg. This blockage can cause pain, inflammation, or may occur without any symptoms at all. It has the potential to become a major complication, as the clot could become dislodged (thrombus) and travel around the body. If this thrombus were to lodge in the lungs, for example, it would consequently reduce blood supply and, therefore, cause enormous damage. Treatment options do exist, and extend from anticoagulation medication to compression stockings, and surgery.
Deep Vein Thrombosis Symptoms
Approximately half of patients with DVT will experience no symptoms. Of the remaining half of patients, they will typically experience tenderness, inflammation, swelling, redness, and pain. The symptoms that occur will depend on the site of the clot, as clot formation in the upper leg is different than if it forms in the lower leg. The vast majority of clots, and hence symptoms, occur in the calf of the affected patient.
A life-threatening risk of DVT, known as pulmonary embolism (PE), occur when the blood clot breaks free and blocks blood flow to the lungs – causing symptoms such as sudden shortness of breath, intense chest pain, dizziness, and coughing up blood. As a result, PE is considered a medical emergency.
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
Deep Vein Thrombosis Causes
Deep Vein Thrombosis is caused by many varying and competing factors. Physicians look at three main causes, known as Virchow’s Triad, when discussing how DVT actually forms:
- Slow blood flow in the veins
- Increased ability for the blood to form clots
- Damage to blood vessels
In other words, DVT will tend to occur when all three of these causes are present in the patient. However, lifestyle and age also play a role in causation. For instance, older individuals are more likely to form clots than their younger counterparts. Other high risk factors include recent leg injury, persistent inactivity, obesity, certain types of cancer, and pre-existing cardiovascular disease.
Deep Vein Thrombosis Diagnosis
There are numerous tests and diagnostic criteria used in the evaluation of DVT in a patient. One such method is known as the Wells Score. The higher the patient scores in a series of observations, the more likely they are to develop DVT. These criteria include, but are not limited to:
- Swelling in the calf (of one leg)
- Previous history of DVT
- Presence of cancer
- Visible and palpable tenderness
- Recent major surgery
If the risk is deemed sufficient, an ultrasound may be performed to determine the location and size of the blood clot. Another test, known as the D-Dimer Test, may be performed to assess the clotting components of blood. From here, a treatment plan can be developed to cater for the individual needs of the patient.
Deep Vein Thrombosis Treatment
There are two main aims of DVT treatment – to prevent the enlargement of the blood clot, as well as to prevent the blood clot from becoming dislodged. Standard therapy involves the use of anticoagulant medication, such as Warfarin. Commonly and mistakenly referred to as “blood thinners”, these drugs prevent the blood clot from enlarging, while also preventing the formation of new clots. This has the additional benefit of giving the body time to breakdown the existing clot. Other treatment options typically include the use of thrombolytic medication – which destroy the clot but has undesirable side-effects, and the use of compression stockings, which reduce the risk and severity of swelling should it occur.
- Anticoagulant Medication
- Thrombolytic Medication