Deep Vein Thrombosis – A Guide
What is deep vein thrombosis (DVT)?
Deep vein thrombosis refers to a blood clot (thrombus) in one of the deep veins, commonly in the lower leg.
What causes a DVT?
A deep vein thrombosis occurs when the blood clots abnormally and causes one of the deep veins to become blocked.
There are several risk factors for developing a DVT:
- A family history of DVT or pulmonary embolism
- A previous DVT or pulmonary embolism
- Immobility, including being bed bound, and sitting for long periods
- Injury to the vein, e.g. trauma or surgery
- Blood clotting disorders in which the blood clots more easily than normal
- Overweight or obesity
- Medications or treatments that affect blood clotting, e.g, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
A DVT may cause some, all or none of the following symptoms in the area of the clot:
- A heavy ache in the affected area
Gradual or sudden breathlessness, chest pain or collapse can indicate a pulmonary embolism. This occurs when a piece of the clot breaks off and blocks one of the blood vessels in the lungs. It is a life-threatening condition and emergency treatment is needed.
Anti-coagulant medications stop the blood from clotting as easily. Heparin is usually given to stop an existing blood clot from getting bigger and breaking up in the blood. Warfarin is then usually used to prevent further clots.
Compression can help to alleviate swelling of the limb and pain, and can reduce the risk of post-thrombotic syndrome and other conditions which are more likely to occur when you have had a DVT, such as a venous leg ulcer.
Exercise can help to reduce the risk of another DVT occurring, as can elevating the affected limb above heart level if lying down, or above hip level when sitting. All of these things help to move the blood out of the limb.