Deep Vein Thrombosis

Where to find this information:
http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/Dvt/DVT_WhatIs.html

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What is Deep Vein Thrombosis?
Other Names for Deep Vein Thrombosis
What Makes Deep Vein Thrombosis More Likely?
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of DVT and of PE?
How is Deep Vein Thrombosis Diagnosed?
How Can I Prevent Deep Vein Thrombosis?
How is Deep Vein Thrombosis Treated?
Frequently Asked Questions About Deep Vein Thrombosis
Summary
Links to Other Information About Deep Vein Thrombosis

 

What Is Deep Vein Thrombosis?

A deep vein thrombosis (throm-BO-sis) is a blood clot that forms in a vein deep in the body. Most deep vein clots occur in the leg or hip veins. They also can occur in other parts of the body, such as arm, chest or other areas. Blood clots in the veins in the thigh are usually more serious than blood clots that happen in veins in your lower leg.

If a clot in a vein breaks off and travels through your bloodstream, it can lodge in your lung. This is called a pulmonary embolism (PUL-mo-ner-e EM-bo-lizm), which is a very serious condition that can cause death.

Blood clots also can occur in veins that are close to the surface of the skin. These types of blood clots are called superficial venous thrombosis or phlebitis (fle-BI-tis). Blood clots in superficial veins cannot travel to the lungs.

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Other Names for Deep Vein Thrombosis

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What Makes Deep Vein Thrombosis More Likely?

There are many factors that may increase your risk for deep vein clots.

Your risk for deep vein clots increases if you have several risk factors at the same time. For example, a woman with an inherited condition for clotting who also takes birth control pills has an even higher risk to have a blood clot.

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What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Deep Vein Thrombosis and of Pulmonary Embolism?

Only about half of the people with deep vein thrombosis have symptoms. The symptoms may include:

Deep vein thrombosis

Pulmonary embolism

Some people only find out they have a deep vein thrombosis after the clot has moved from the leg and traveled to the lung (pulmonary embolism). It is important to see a doctor right away if you have symptoms of a pulmonary embolism or deep vein thrombosis.

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How is Deep Vein Thrombosis Diagnosed?

Your doctor will obtain a medical history and examine you to determine if you have deep vein thrombosis.

Duplex ultrasound is the most common test used to diagnose deep vein clots. It uses sound waves to evaluate the flow of blood in your veins. A gel is put on the skin of the leg. A handheld device is placed on the leg and passed back and forth over the affected area. This device sends sound waves from the leg to an ultrasound machine. A computer then turns the sounds into a picture. The picture is displayed on a TV screen where your doctor can see the blood flow in your leg.

Venography may be performed if the Duplex ultrasound does not provide a clear diagnosis. A venogram is an x-ray used to examine veins. A dye is injected into a vein and then an x-ray is taken of the leg. The dye makes the vein visible on the x-ray. If the blood flow in the vein is slowed, it will show on the x-ray.

Less frequently used tests

If your doctor suspects that an inherited disorder could be causing the clots, the doctor may test for these disorders. This may be important if:

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How Can I Prevent Deep Vein Thrombosis?

Preventing deep vein thrombosis depends on whether you have had a clot before or if you are at risk for developing a deep vein clot but never had one.

If you have had a deep vein clot, then you will need to prevent further clots from developing by:

If you have never had a deep vein clot, but are in a situation that may increase your risk, be sure to:

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How is Deep Vein Thrombosis Treated?

The main goals in treating deep vein thrombosis are to:

There are several medications used to treat and/or prevent deep vein thrombosis:

Anticoagulants (sometimes called blood thinners) decrease your blood's ability to clot. They are used to stop clots from getting bigger and to prevent a blood clot from forming. Anticoagulants do not break up blood clots that have already formed. Your body's natural system will dissolve the clot. Anticoagulants can either come as a pill (warfarin) or as an injection or shot (heparin).

Heparin and warfarin may be given at the same time. Heparin will act quickly, while the warfarin will take 2 to 3 days before it starts to work. Once the warfarin is working, the heparin will be stopped. Pregnant women cannot take warfarin and will be treated with heparin only.

Treatment for deep vein thrombosis with anticoagulants usually lasts for 3 to 6 months. However, the following situations may change the length of treatment:

The most common side effect of anticoagulants is bleeding. Blood tests will check how well the medicine is working. You should call your doctor right away if you are taking warfarin or heparin and have easy bruising or bleeding.

Thrombolytics are medications given to quickly dissolve the blood clot. They are used to treat large clots causing severe symptoms. Because they can cause sudden bleeding, they are only used in life-threatening situations.

Thrombin inhibitors are new medications that interfere with the clotting process. They are used in treating some types of clots and for patients who cannot take heparin.

Vena cava filters are used when you cannot take medications to thin your blood, or if you are taking blood thinners and continue to develop clots. The filter can prevent blood clots from moving from the vein in your legs to the lung (pulmonary embolism). The filter is inserted inside a large vein called the vena cava. It can catch the clots as they try to move through the body to the lungs. This treatment will prevent a pulmonary embolism, but will not stop you from developing more clots.

Your doctor may prescribe graduated compression stockings to reduce the chronic swelling that can occur in the leg after a blood clot has developed. The swelling is due to damage to the valves in the leg veins.

Compression stockings are worn on the legs from the arch of the foot to just above or below the knee. These stockings are tight at the ankle and become looser as they go up the leg. This causes a gentle compression (or pressure) up your leg. They have some side effects:

Much of the treatment for deep vein thrombosis takes place at home. It is important to:

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Frequently Asked Questions About Deep Vein Thrombosis

If I have mild symptoms of a deep vein thrombosis, can I wait and see if the clot will go away on its own?

No. Not treating a deep vein thrombosis can cause very serious complications. If you think you have the symptoms or are unsure if you have the symptoms, see a doctor right away.

Are there any foods that change the way my medications work?

Yes, foods that contain Vitamin K can change how well warfarin (coumadin) will work. This vitamin is found in green leafy vegetables and in some oils like canola and soybean oil. It is best if you eat a well-balanced healthy diet that doesn't vary. For example, you should not make up for having no vegetables one week by eating extra helpings of vegetables the next week.

I hear that alcohol can thin my blood. Can I drink alcohol while taking anticoagulants?

It is important that you discuss with your doctor what amount of alcohol is safe for you to drink.

Do I need to restrict my activities while I am being treated for a deep vein thrombosis?

You should discuss your activities with your doctor. In general, your activities do not need to be restricted.

Can I take over-the-counter medications while taking anticoagulants (blood thinners)?

Some over-the-counter medications, such as vitamin K in multivitamins, may change the way your medications work. Aspirin can also thin your blood. Taking two medications (even if one is over-the-counter) that thins your blood may increase your risk for excessive bleeding. Always check with your health care team before taking any other medications while taking anticoagulants.

Why do I need to have blood testing?

While you are taking anticoagulants, your doctor will need to carefully monitor your clotting ability. Blood tests will measure how quickly your blood clots or if your blood is clotting too slowly. If your lab tests show that your blood is clotting too slowly or too quickly, your medications may be changed or adjusted.

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Summary

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Links to Other Information About Deep Vein Thrombosis

Medline Plus

Clinical Trials

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The information contained in materials published by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) is in the public domain. No further permission is required to reproduce or reprint the information in whole or in part. However, organizations that reproduce NHLBI publications should cite the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute as a part of the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as the source. This applies to printed publications as well as documents from the NHLBI Web site. Organizations may add their own logo or name. We further ask that no changes be made in the content of the material, and that the material as well as any NHLBI Internet links should not be used in any direct or indirect product endorsement or advertising.

 

Page last update: 11/13/10

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