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Understanding Deep Vein Thrombosis

Understanding Deep Vein Thrombosis

Do you experience unexplained swelling in your leg, pain or tenderness in your leg when standing and/or walking, or red or discolored skin on your leg? If so, you may be experiencing signs of deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

DVT is a blood clot that forms in a vein deep in the body. Blood clots occur when blood thickens and clumps together. Normally, these occur in the lower leg or thigh, but they can also occur in other parts of the body. Not everyone with DVT experiences symptoms. If you are experiencing the symptoms previously mentioned, however, it's important to let your doctor know.

If you are experiencing DVT, the blood clot that is in the vein could break off and travel through your bloodstream, which can put your health at risk. "This loose clot can travel to your lungs and block blood flow causing a pulmonary embolism (PE)," says Dr. Alik Farber, Chief of the Division of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery at BMC. "PE is a very serious condition that can damage the lungs and other organs in the body and in some situations, can even cause death."

You are more likely to have DVT if you:

  • Have a history of DVT.
  • Have experienced an injury to a deep vein in your leg (i.e. broken bone).
  • Have slow blood flow in the deep vein due to lack of movement.
  • Are pregnant or have given birth within the last 6 weeks.
  • Are receiving treatment for cancer.
  • Are older than 60.
  • Are overweight.
  • Are a smoker.

"The goals of DVT treatment are to prevent the blood clot from getting bigger, to prevent it from breaking loose and causing PE, and to reduce your chances of DVT happening again," says Dr. Farber. Your doctor may prescribe medication to prevent blood clots from getting larger. Another treatment option is a vena cava filter. This is when a filter is inserted inside a large vein called the vena cava. The filter's job is to catch blood clots before they travel to the lungs and ultimately, prevent PE. Finally, compression stockings are another common form of treatment aimed at reducing swelling in the legs.

Contact your healthcare provider immediately if you think you might be experiencing DVT.