Don’t Be Fooled by Lack of Symptoms with Deep Vein Thrombosis
There are four types of veins in the human body that range in size from 1 millimeter up to 1.5 centimeters in diameter. Pulmonary veins carry oxygenated blood from the lungs to the heart, systemic veins return blood without oxygen from the body to the heart, superficial veins are close to the surface of the skin, and deep veins are located deep within muscle tissue. It is within these deep veins that blood clots can form called deep vein thrombosis, or DVT.
Approximately half of all people with DVT do not experience symptoms. When present, however, signs of the condition can cause swelling of the leg or along a vein in the leg, increased warmth in the affected area, leg pain or tenderness, and skin on the leg that is red or discolored.
“DVT usually occurs in the lower leg or thigh. Blood clots form if the inner lining of a vein is damaged, blood flow is sluggish because of lack of motion, or blood becomes thicker due to certain inherited conditions, hormone therapy, or birth control pills,” says Charles Iliya, M.D., vascular surgeon on the medical staff at Doctors Hospital at White Rock Lake. “Risk factors for developing DVT include pregnancy, recently giving birth, being over the age of 60, smoking, varicose veins, cancer treatment, having a central venous catheter for medical treatment, or being overweight or obese.”
The diagnosis of DVT is based on a medical history review, physical exam, and test results. Ultrasound is frequently performed to identify DVT. However, for some patients an A D-dimer test, which measures a substance released in the blood when a blood clot dissolves, or venography, which requires injecting dye into an affected vein and then taking X-rays to look for blood clots, also may be necessary to confirm the diagnosis.
“Treatment for DVT focuses on stopping the clot from growing, keeping the clot from breaking off and traveling to the lungs, and preventing the formation of future clots,” says Dr. Iliya. “Anticoagulant medicines, or blood thinners, are most commonly prescribed to treat DVT. While these medications can decrease the ability of blood to clot and stop existing clots from getting bigger, they cannot break up clots that have already formed.”
Two blood thinners used to treat DVT are heparin and warfarin. Heparin acts quickly and is administered as an injection or through an intravenous tube. Warfarin takes several days to start working and is given in pill form. Both medicines may be prescribed at the same time, but the heparin is stopped once the warfarin starts to work. People unable to take anticoagulants may need a filter, which is inserted inside the large vena cava vein to catch blood clots before they get to the lungs. Compression stockings also may be worn to keep blood from pooling and clotting in the legs.
“It is important to seek medical help when symptoms of DVT appear,” advises Dr. Iliya. “A loose blood clot can travel to an artery in the lungs, blocking blood flow and causing a potentially fatal condition called pulmonary embolism.”
To learn more about DVT, visit the free, online health library on the Doctors Hospital at White Rock Lake website at www.DoctorsHospitalDallas.com/DeepVeinThrombosis.