Deep Vein Thrombosis

Overview

What Is Deep Vein Thrombosis?

Deep vein thrombosis, or DVT, is a condition caused by a blot clot, or “thrombus,” that can form in one or more of your deep veins. These clots can occur anywhere in your body, but most commonly develop in your lower leg, thigh or pelvis.

This condition can quickly become life-threatening. The blood clot can break free and travel to your lungs. Once there, it can cause a dangerous blockage called a pulmonary embolism.

Although the condition is relatively uncommon, the American Heart Association estimates that up to two million Americans develop DVT every year.

World-Class Care

Our Comprehensive Care for Deep Vein Thrombosis

Our vascular specialists treat more patients than any other health system in Wisconsin. At Aurora, we offer a dedicated vascular medicine program, which many other hospital systems aren’t able to do.

We also offer:

  • Deep expertise: We treat a significant number of patients who have deep vein thrombosis every year. The more challenging cases we handle, the more our skills grow. Our vascular specialists can handle even the most complex DVT cases.
  • Fellowship-trained specialists: Many of our vascular experts undergo additional training after their medical residencies. This training puts them in an elite class of highly skilled doctors.
  • Innovative clinical trials & treatments: Our doctors regularly participate in research and clinical trials for new technology and procedures to treat DVT. For instance, we can treat complex cases with catheter-directed thrombolysis, a procedure that breaks up blood clots to prevent them from becoming pulmonary embolisms.

Symptoms

When Should You See Your Doctor About Deep Vein Thrombosis?

Because this condition can quickly become life threatening, you should see your doctor right away if you develop any symptoms of deep vein thrombosis.

Some people develop DVT without any warning signs. However, the most common symptoms include:

  • Pain and inflammation in a single leg; may initially feel like a leg cramp
  • Leg pain that gets worse over time; other conditions, like pulled muscles, usually get better in time
  • Redness or other discoloration in the skin of one leg
  • Leg sores (ulcers) that are slow to heal
  • Swelling in a single leg or along a vein; swelling that doesn’t go down when you elevate the leg
  • Pain in the back of your calf muscle; injured muscles, on the other hand, tend to occur in one side of your calf

Warning Signs of a Pulmonary Embolism

A pulmonary embolism, a common complication of deep vein thrombosis, is extremely serious.

Get medical help immediately or call 911 if you develop any of these pulmonary embolism symptoms:

  • Sudden shortness of breath
  • Coughing up blood
  • Chest pain that gets worse when you breathe deeply or cough
  • Feeling dizzy or as if you might faint
  • Extremely rapid pulse
  • Excessive sweating

Learn more about pulmonary embolisms.

Causes

What Causes Deep Vein Thrombosis?

In some cases, lifestyle and habits can contribute to a person developing deep vein thrombosis. In other cases, certain inherited health disorders can cause this condition. Some people develop deep vein thrombosis without ever knowing the cause.

Common factors behind deep vein thrombosis include:

  • Pregnancy, or having recently given birth
  • Immobility for long periods of time due to travel, sickness or surgery
  • A recent injury, particularly a broken leg, hip or pelvis
  • Cancer treatment (possibly due to inactivity or being bed-ridden)
  • Receiving medicine through a venous catheter
  • Certain inherited blood-clotting disorders
  • Vein damage from an autoimmune condition, injury or previous surgery

Diagnosis & Treatment

Deep Vein Thrombosis Diagnosis

To determine whether you have deep vein thrombosis, your doctor will review your medical history, listen to your description of symptoms and do a physical examination. You may need additional diagnostic tests, including:

  • Ultrasound
  • X-rays
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

Learn more about radiographic testing.

Deep Vein Thrombosis Treatments

Your Aurora vascular specialist will work with you to develop a treatment plan tailored to your specific health needs. It may include:

Medical Options

Your doctor may recommend:

  • Blood-thinning medications: These medications prevent blood clots from forming, getting larger or breaking off. These types of medications are also called “anticoagulants.” Learn more about our anticoagulation clinics.
  • Catheter-directed thrombolysis: This procedure involves using a thin tube called a catheter to direct medication into a blood clot to dissolve it.
  • Vena cava filter surgery: Your surgeon inserts a metal filter into an abdominal vein to stop blood clots from moving to your lungs or heart. Learn more about vena cava filters.

Home Care

Home treatments that may be helpful include:

  • Foot elevation: Foot elevation can prevent blood from pooling in your legs.
  • Compression stockings: Compression stockings help reduce pain and swelling after deep vein thrombosis treatment and prevent blood from pooling in your thighs, calves and ankles.

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