Deep Vein Thrombosis

By:    Published: September 6, 2011

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What is it?

Deep vein thrombosis is a medical condition that happens when a thrombus, or blood clot, forms in a large vein in the body and blocks blood circulation. The area of affection is typically the lower limbs of the body. Also abbreviated as DVT, deep vein thrombosis may result in further health complications and possibly death if left untreated. For example, pulmonary embolism (blockage in a main artery in the lung) is a common consequence of untreated DVT, and can be fatal.

Individuals who are at risk include:

  • People who have recently undergone surgery
  • Those above the age of 40
  • Persons with restricted mobility
  • Individuals who are overweight or suffering from obesity
  • Anyone with a family history of DVT

Interestingly, DVT is known to affect constant travelers and frequent flyers due to the long periods of immobility while sitting in a car or an airplane. Women who are pregnant, as well as medical inpatients who are often immobilized and have extended hospital stays, are also at higher risk of developing DVT than others. Fortunately, there are preventative measures against DVT for individuals who are at risk.

Signs and symptoms of DVT can include pain, swelling, tenderness, discoloration and excessive heat at the affected area. Be sure to see a doctor if you are experiencing any of these warning signs and fit into the risk factors of deep vein thrombosis.

Diagnosis

There are several ways to diagnose and determine the presence of DVT. The most effective diagnostic method is known as intravenous venography, where the physician may inject a contrast dye in a vein of the affected limb. By taking x-rays of the leg, physicians can then determine the presence of block circulation in the limb. Similarly, other types of imaging and MRIs, combined with blood flow measurement, are also used as less invasive diagnostic tools and are becoming more widely adapted.

Another method of diagnosis is physical examination combined with references to the patient's medical history. Since recent surgery, hospitalization, or past history of blood clotting increases one's risk factors, the physician may ask questions relating to long-term immobilization of any type. Blood tests can also be run as a tool of diagnosis in conjunction to other types of testing.

Treatment

There are several ways to manage DVT.

  • Medication: The first type of medication your doctor may prescribe is an anticoagulant, which can prevent the formation of blood clots in general. The second type of medication can be a thrombolytic agent, which gets rid of blood clots by dissolving and breaking them apart. Be sure to follow the instructions closely, since these drugs are generally blood thinners that may exacerbate bleeding.
  • Surgery: If, for some reason, the affected individual is not a good candidate for blood thinners, he or she may need to have surgery instead. The surgery may involve a thrombectomy, which is the surgical removal of the blood clot, or inserting a small metal filter in the vein that prevents clots from traveling to other parts of the body, which can result in other medical conditions.
  • Compression: For those with less serious cases of DVT, your doctor may recommend wearing compression stockings or bandages to minimize pain and discomfort. Foot elevation and heat therapy, like heat packs, may also be administered along with compression as needed.

Prevention

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help prevent deep vein thrombosis from happening.

  • Maintain an active lifestyle: Since obesity and extended periods of immobility are risk factors of DVT, adopting an active lifestyle can be an effective preventative measure. Even if you are a frequent traveler who is forced to be inactive, be sure to get up every few hours to stretch and walk around, wear compression stockings, and stay well-hydrated throughout the traveling period.
  • Eat a healthy diet: Healthier eating habits are useful to ward off obesity, which is a major risk factor for DVT. A heart healthy diet is also highly recommended, since low cholesterol may decrease the risk of clot formation as well as keeping your cardiovascular system healthy.
  • Stop smoking: Smoking is one of the risk factors for increased chances of blood clot formation that may result in deep vein thrombosis. Seek ways to quit smoking today for the betterment of your own health.
  • Creating post-surgery plans: According to PreventDVT.org, hospitalized individuals are eight times more likely to get deep vein thrombosis than normal. Hence, it is important to devise a post-surgery plan if you are already at risk for DVT and knew ahead of time that extended hospital stay will follow the surgery. Talk to your doctor during the pre-operative consultation for stretching exercises and preventative measures you can take to avoid getting DVT.
  • Talking to your doctor: Your doctor will know your health history and medical conditions the best, and can recommend the most effective preventative measure against deep vein thrombosis.

Sources:

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