What Is Deep Vein Thrombosis?

Deep vein thrombosis, or DVT, is a condition that is often misdiagnosed or overlooked. What is it and how do we prevent it?

Deep Vein Thrombosis, or DVT, occurs when a blood clot forms deep within a vein. In most cases, this blood clot occurs in the thigh or calf. This formed clot is capable of blocking the blood flow within the vein completely or partially. The reason why DVT can be severe is that these deep veins within the leg are responsible for pumping blood to the heart, and, if they break loose, can travel to the lungs, causing pulmonary emboli.

Symptoms

Unfortunately, it is quite difficult to accurately diagnose DVT. In fact, half of all DVT cases have very few signs. Schedule an appointment with your physician if you notice any of the following symptoms: your skin feels warm when you touch it, your veins look visibly larger or are discolored or your leg begins to swell or becomes painful/tender. However, if you experience any of the following symptoms, you need to seek immediate medical attention: you cough up blood, you experience excessive anxiety/sweating, you become dizzy/faint, you have a rapid pulse, you have chest pains or you have shortness of breath.

Diagnosis

Your physician may check to see if other problems may be causing the above symptoms, like muscle strains or other vein inflammations that are not as serious. However, if he/she does suspect that you may have DVT, he/she may order one of three tests. A doppler ultrasound is probably the first test that will be ordered, as it is the most popular. In this procedure, the physician will first rub some medical jelly on your leg and then use a transducer device, which sends sound wave signals into the leg. These waves travel through the leg tissue and back to the device, which records the "images" and will reveal any clot that may be present. A second test is called a venography test. The physician or technician will inject a dye into a large foot or ankle vein. X-rays will be taken to reveal any clots that may be present. Although a highly accurate test, a venography is also more invasive and uncomfortable for the patient. The third test is an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging). The patient's leg will usually be placed in a large tube-like device that uses extremely strong magnets to "take a picture," so to speak, of the body's internal structure.



Common Causes and Prevention

DVT usually strikes people over the age of 60, but that does not necessarily mean that somebody younger is not at risk. Injuries to the leg, including blows to the leg, athletic injuries, cancer or surgery may increase the risk of DVT. Immobility also increases the risk of DVT, so many people who are bed-ridden due to disease or injury are often prone to it. Pregnancy and the use of oral contraceptives, like birth control pills, increase the risk as does smoking, obesity and cancer. Also, people who are frequent travelers on planes, including pilots and stewardesses are susceptible to the condition.

It is possible to prevent DVT. If you are a frequent traveler, there are many plane exercises you can perform in your seat or walking around the plane that may decrease your risk. Keeping your weight down, eating a well-balanced diet and exercising regularly may also keep DVT at bay.

Treatments

Fortunately, there are many treatments available to help. Medications like anticoagulants (help prevent further clots) and thrombolytic agents (help dissolve clots) will help alleviate the symptoms. If the DVT is severe, there are also surgical procedures that can be done, including a thrombectomy (surgically removing the clot) or placing a filter in the vein that leads to the heart to help stop any clots that may get loose.

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