DVT (Blood Clot in the Leg, Deep Vein Thrombosis)
Facts and definition of DVT (deep vein thrombosis)
- The definition of deep venous
thrombosis (DVT) is a condition in which a blood clot is embedded in one of the
major deep veins of the lower legs, thighs, pelvis, or arm. A clot blocks blood
circulation through these veins, which carry blood from the lower body back to
the heart. The blockage can cause acute pain, swelling, or warmth in the
- Blood clots in the veins can cause
inflammation (irritation) called thrombophlebitis.
- Severe complications of deep vein
thrombosis occur when a clot breaks loose (or embolizes) and travels through the
bloodstream, causing blockage of blood vessels (pulmonary arteries) in the lung.
Called pulmonary embolism (PE), this can lead to severe difficulty in breathing
and even death, depending on the degree of blockage.
- The U.S. Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention (CDC) estimates as many as 900,000 people could be affected by
DVT/PE each year in the United States, and 60,000 to 100,000 Americans die of
DVT/PE (also called venous thromboembolism).
- Symptoms and signs of DVT occur in the
affected leg and include swelling, pain, redness, warmth to the touch, worsening
leg pain when bending the foot, leg cramps (especially at night and/or in the
calf), and discoloration of skin.
- Causes of deep vein thrombosis include
damage to the inside of a blood vessel due to trauma or other conditions,
changes in normal blood flow, or a rare state in which the blood is more likely
than usual to clot (hypercoagulability).
- Risk factors for DVT/PE include
prolonged sitting or immobility, recent surgery, recent trauma to the lower
body, obesity, heart attack or heart failure, pregnancy or recent childbirth,
high altitudes, estrogen therapy or
birth control pills, cancer, rare genetic
conditions that affect blood clotting factors, certain heart or respiratory
conditions, advanced age, and medical conditions that affect the veins.
- Diagnosis of deep vein thrombosis is
confirmed using imaging tests such as Doppler ultrasound, venography, impedance
plethysmography, and CT scan.
- Treatment of DVT in the leg is
individualized for each patient. Usually, anticoagulation or blood-thinning
medication is prescribed to prevent further clot formation and to minimize the
risk that part of the blood clot will break off and travel to the lung and cause
- In rare cases, large deep venous
thrombosis of the leg is treated with surgery in patients who cannot take blood
- Prevention and prophylaxis of DVT
involves managing risk factors. Lose weight if overweight or obese, avoid
periods of prolonged immobility, keep the legs elevated while sitting down or in
bed, and avoid high-dose estrogen pills. After surgery, get out of bed several
times a day during the recovery period, use compression devices on the legs or
elastic compression socks/stockings, and take heparin or warfarin
(Coumadin, Jantoven) if prescribed
to prevent clot formation.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/19/2016
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