What is deep venous thrombosis?
Deep venous thrombosis is the medical term for blood clots inside the deep veins of the leg. Doctors usually call deep venous thrombosis by its short form DVT.
Blood normally clots to stop a bleeding wound. When a blood clot forms inside a vein, the circulation is blocked and the blood cannot find its way to the heart. This causes swelling and pain in the leg.
The most serious problem occurs when a blood clot that is inside the vein migrates to the lung and blocks the pulmonary circulation. This harms the respiration, causes serious shortness of breath and can lead to death. Doctors call it pulmonary embolism. Pulmonary embolism is also known as pulmonary thromboembolism or as its short form PE.
What are the symptoms of deep venous thrombosis?
The leg with deep venous thrombosis usually presents:
- Warmth and redness
Sometimes clots form in the veins that are closer to the surface of the skin, instead of in the deep ones. Those blood clots cause pain and redness in the skin, and it is possible to feel that the veins are hard and bulge into ridges that look like cords. This condition is called thrombophlebitis.
If you think you have deep venous thrombosis, contact the vascular surgeon. Blood clots in the veins near the surface of the skin (thrombophlebitis) are not usually dangerous. But blood clots in the deep veins of the leg can be serious. The vascular surgeon will ask the exams required to diagnose thrombosis.
What are the symptoms of pulmonary embolism?
Blood clots that migrate to the lungs usually cause:
- Shortness of breath
- Sharp, knife-like chest pain when you breathe in
- Coughing or coughing up blood
- A rapid heartbeat
If you get any of these symptoms, go to an emergency unit. At the hospital, doctors can run tests to find out if you do have pulmonary embolism.
How is deep venous thrombosis treated?
Deep venous thrombosis is treated with medicines that block the formation of clots. They keep the clots from getting bigger. Some of these medicines come in shots and others come in pills.
People who have had deep venous thrombosis must usually take these medicines as pills, for at least three months after their clot is found. Taking the pills in the right way, new blood clots cannot form. It is important because deep venous thrombosis can occur again in the same or another vein.
The most important thing is taking the medicines exactly the way the vascular surgeon prescribes. If you forget to take a pill, take the forgotten dose as soon as you remember. Never take a double dose in the day after to compensate a missed dose. In case of doubts, contact the vascular surgeon.
The most prescribed medicines today require blood exams to check if the doses are correct. That’s because the effects can change over time. If there are changes, the vascular surgeon may need to adjust your dose. At the wrong doses, the medicines can either stop working or lead to serious bleeding.
Can I do anything on my own to prevent deep venous thrombosis?
Yes. Some people have deep venous thrombosis because they have been sitting still for too long. People who travel on airplane flights that take more than eight hours are at increased risk of venous thrombosis. You can prevent a clot during a long flight by:
- Stand up and walk around every hour or two.
- Wear loose-fitting and comfortable clothes.
- Ask if you can sit in the bulkhead or emergency exit row, where there is more space for your legs to move.
- Point and flex your feet, and bend your knees every hour.
- Drink plenty of fluids, and avoid alcohol excess.
- Do not take medicines such as sleeping pills that can prevent you from getting up and moving around.