Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a vascular condition that is characterised by blood clotting in one or more of your veins. The most commonly affected veins are those in the legs, and a blocked vein will impede blood flow to your heart. If you develop DVT, you are at risk of developing a pulmonary embolism, which is a potentially life-threatening complication that occurs when part of a blood clot breaks away, travels to your lungs and causes a blockage to develop. A pulmonary embolism can prevent sufficient oxygen being pumped out of your lungs, which can lead to organ failure.
Causes And Symptoms
It's not always possible to determine the cause when someone develops DVT, but there are factors that can increase your risk of developing the condition. Those with an underlying condition that impairs circulation, those who are overweight and those with limited mobility are at increased risk. Undergoing any type of surgery that requires a general anaesthetic also increases your risk of developing a blood clot, and some oral contraceptives can cause your blood to thicken, which increases the risk of clotting.
Symptoms of DVT don't always appear right away, but early warning signs include calf pain, localised swelling and reddening of the skin. You may also notice the affected area is warm to the touch. When a clot leads to a pulmonary embolism, you may experience chest pain, dizziness and shortness of breath.
Your doctor will make a diagnosis by taking details of your symptoms and carrying out a physical exam. A blood sample will be taken to check the level of D dimer present, which is a protein fragment that increases when blood clots. A vascular ultrasound will also be required to assess circulatory health and allow your doctor to determine the precise location and size of the clot.
The goal of treatment is to dissolve the existing clot and minimise the risk of others developing. First-line treatment typically involves the use of blood-thinning medication, which may be administered orally or intramuscularly, and compression stockings, which must be worn night and day to support the vein walls and reduce swelling. When several clots are present, surgery may be required to place a filter in the main vein that runs along the centre of your abdomen, which is called the vena cava. The filter will catch any pieces of blood clots that break away and travel toward your lungs, and this will protect you from developing a pulmonary embolism.
If you experience any of the symptoms associated with this condition, schedule an urgent consultation with your doctor. Prompt treatment can minimise your risk of developing a serious complication.