Deep Vein Thrombosis
Treating Cardiovascular Diseases in Wisconsin and Northern Illinois
Deep vein thrombosis, or DVT, occurs when a thrombus, or blood clot, forms in a vein deep inside the body and restricts or blocks normal blood flow. A thrombus is a blood clot that forms in a blood vessel and stays there, whereas an embolus is a blood clot that forms in one part of the body and travels to another part of the body. While a thrombus can form in any deep vein, they typically form in the pelvis, thigh or lower leg.
Only about half of patients experience deep vein thrombosis symptoms. Although DVT is not considered a life-threatening condition, these blood clots can eventually damage or kill neighboring tissue. They also have the potential to break free or break apart and travel to another part of the body.
Deep vein thrombosis is a major risk factor for a pulmonary embolism, which occurs when a blood clot breaks loose and causes a sudden blockage in a lung artery. Unless it’s quickly treated, a pulmonary embolism can lead to lung damage, reduced oxygen in the blood or even death. Learn more about pulmonary embolism symptoms.
Deep Vein Thrombosis Symptoms
When signs and symptoms of dvt do occur, they may include:
- Leg ulcers
- Pain, inflammation or warmth in a leg
- Redness or discoloration on a leg’s skin
- Swelling in the leg or along a leg vein
If you notice symptoms of deep vein thrombosis, see your doctor right away. It’s better to receive treatment before this condition causes leg damage—or a pulmonary embolism. In some cases, however, a pulmonary embolism is the first indication of deep vein thrombosis.
Deep Vein Thrombosis Causes and Risks
The following conditions can increase your risk for developing deep vein thrombosis:
- A central venous catheter (used to deliver medications)
- Being older than age 60 (although the condition can occur at any age)
- Being overweight or obese
- Certain cancer treatments
- Conditions or factors that increase your risk of blood clots, including heredity, birth control pills and hormone therapy
- Damage or injury to a vein from a surgery, trauma, autoimmune conditions or smoking
- Lack of movement due to traveling long distances, illness or recovering from surgery
- Pregnancy or having recently given birth
Deep Vein Thrombosis Diagnosis
Your doctor will diagnose deep vein thrombosis based on your health history, a physical exam and various test results. Your personal and family health histories will help identify potential risk factors. A physical exam may reveal signs of swelling or inflammation in a leg or elevated blood pressure in your heart or lungs.
When doctors suspect deep vein thrombosis, they may recommend several imaging tests to study how well blood is flowing through the leg’s arteries and veins. These may include:
- Computed tomography
- Magnetic resonance imaging
- Ultrasound testing
- X-rays using dye
Your doctor may also recommend lab testing to check for a substance that’s released when a blood clot dissolves.
Treating Deep Vein Thrombosis
Treatment depends on the severity of your condition. In general, the goals of treatment are to:
- Prevent a pulmonary embolism
- Prevent damage to nearby tissue
- Prevent the clot from getting larger and other clots from forming
Doctors may accomplish these goals in various ways. For some patients, wearing compression stockings and elevating the feet whenever possible are enough to accomplish these goals. For others, medication or invasive procedures are necessary.
Medications may include:
- Anticoagulants, known as blood thinners, to prevent blood clots from forming or getting larger
- Direct thrombin inhibitors, which interfere with the clotting process
- Thrombolytics, which are administered through a catheter to dissolve blood clots
In some cases, a vena cava filter is inserted inside a large vein to help catch blood clots before they travel to the lungs.
A Leader in Treating Deep Vein Thrombosis
Aurora Health Care physicians and staff offer a multidisciplinary team approach to treating deep vein thrombosis and other vascular conditions. Our team includes vascular medicine specialists, cardiologists, imaging specialists and surgeons all under one roof.
Aurora doctors are conveniently located throughout eastern Wisconsin and northeastern Illinois. Find a doctor or heart specialist near you. To get a second opinion or if you need assistance finding a provider, please call 888-649-6892.