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DVT (Blood Clot in the Leg, Deep Vein Thrombosis) Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

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 affected leg.
  • 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 leg with the blood clot, 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)
    • 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
    • Medical conditions that affect the veins
  • Doctors diagnose the condition 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 pulmonary embolism. New guidelines for various treatments were made by the ACCP (American College of Physicians) in 2016.
  • In rare cases, large deep venous thrombosis of the leg is treated with surgery in patients who cannot take blood thinners.
  • 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.
    • 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.
    • Take heparin or warfarin (Coumadin, Jantoven) if prescribed to prevent clot formation.
Last Reviewed 9/11/2017

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Signs and Symptoms of a Blood Clot

There are a variety of causes of blood clots. Signs and symptoms of a blood clot depend on the location, and may include:

  • Blood clot in the leg (DVT): Pain, redness, and swelling in the area around the blood clot
  • Blood clot in the lung (pulmonary embolism): Shortness of breath, chest pain, and rapid pulse and breathing
  • Blood clot in the brain (stroke): Loss of vision and speech, and weakness on one side of the body
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Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Deep Venous Thrombosis »

Deep venous thrombosis (DVT) most commonly involves the deep veins of the leg or arm, often resulting in potentially life-threatening emboli to the lungs or debilitating venous alular dysfunction and chronic leg swelling.

Read More on Medscape Reference »

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