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The Dangers Of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT).

Updated on March 23, 2013
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DVT - Deep Vein Thrombosis

This is a common problem with many people and unfortunately can lead to a life-threatening situation. A basic definition of a Deep Vein Thrombosis - nearly always abbreviated to DVT - is:


"A clot that forms in one of the deep veins of the body - usually the legs or pelvis area."

Medical Dictionary Online


This straigntforward definition hides the fact that a DVT has the potential to lead to much more serious conditions. However, we'll first of all look at how and why a thrombosis (blood clot) may form in a deep vein and then why this condition can be so dangerous.

A vein showing a blood clot that is slowing down the circulation of blood.
A vein showing a blood clot that is slowing down the circulation of blood. | Source

Why DVT's develop

A Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) may also be called a venous thrombosis, but the terms mean exactly the same thing.


Causes:

There might not be a clear cause of why a DVT develops with some people. Medically they usually develop due to:

  • Having blood that clots too easily
  • Damaged blood vessels
  • Having a slow blood flow.


There are also risk factors that are believed to increase the chance of developing a clot:

  • Lack of activity - basically if you are a couch potato then you have an increased chance of developing a DVT. Walking, running and any form of exercise that increases the circulation through the legs is an excellent way to prevent a blood clot forming. When blood becomes stagnant due to weak or damaged blood vessels this increases the chances of the blood forming a clot.
  • Family history - with many medical conditions it's believed that if a member of your family has suffered from a particular condition then genetically you might also be at risk from the same condition.
  • Obesity - being overweight, especially when reaching the levels of clinical obesity, can cause many serious conditions to develop including DVT's. This is because obesity makes the heart work harder in order that blood can be circulated to the extra fat layers. This leads to high blood pressure that damages blood vessels so increasing the chances of a blockage in those vessels.
  • Age - as we get older obviously our circulation and blood vessels are not as in good condition as they used to be. In addition, our mobility may become restricted due to other disorders.This can lead to further weakness and damage in blood vessels so increasing the risk of blood clots forming.
  • Smoking restricts the blood vessels, therefore increases the chances of clots forming inside them.

In addition to the life style and social causes above, you can be at further risk from developing a DVT if:

  • You are a patient in hospital. This is because the majority of people who are admitted to hospital are not only inactive for long periods of time, but the condition that they are admitted for may give them an additional risk of forming a clot. For example after surgery, it may seem as if nurses are being hard when they get patients out of bed soon after an operation, however, this is to prevent DVT's and other complications such as pneumonia setting in. Your risk of developing a DVT will be assessed on admission and preventative treatment given such as anti-coagulants or compression stockings. Anti-coagulants prevent blood from clotting and compression stockings increases the circulation through the legs.
  • Blood vessel damage - if you already have blood vessel damage due to a previous injury, varicose veins, some medications, vein inflammation can all make you more prone to developing blood clots.
  • Medical conditions and treatments - a number of these,for various reasons, can increase the chance of forming a blood clot, especially a DVT. These include - some forms of cancer, chemotherapy, heart/lung disease, stroke, rheumatoid arthritis, certain blood conditions/diseases.
  • In addition, pregnancy, some types of contraceptive pill - such as the combined pill - and HRT treatment are known to increase the risk of blood clots.


Symptoms:

As mentioned before, there are some people who will not experience any symptoms at all with a DVT. However, for most the following are the most common:

  • Normally only one leg is affected but a DVT can occur in both.
  • People complain of aching and of their leg feeling heavy.
  • The area where the clot has formed is warm to the touch and red. This red area usually appears at the back of the leg, below the knee.
  • People may experience pain at the back of the leg. Frequently when the foot is bent upward towards the knee, this makes the pain worse.

If these signs appear then you should speak to a doctor as soon as possible. DVT's can be treated but the the danger lies with the medical emergencies that may arise from it.

Source
A DVT can lead to part of the clot lodging in the lungs where it is known as a pulmonary embolism.
A DVT can lead to part of the clot lodging in the lungs where it is known as a pulmonary embolism. | Source

Medical complications of DVT

There are a number of complications that may arise from a DVT. However, there are two in particular that develop most often:

  • Pulmonary Embolism
  • Post-thrombotic Syndrome


Pulmonary Embolism

This is by far the most serious of DVT complications. As we know a DVT is a blood clot usually in the leg. What can happen is that a part of this clot may break off and starts to travel in the blood stream. This piece of clot can end up entering one of the lungs and becoming lodged in one of the smaller blood vessels - this is called a pulmonary embolism.

Pulmonary is a medical term that relates to the lungs and the blood flow through the lungs. An embolism is any foreign body, including a blood clot, that gets stuck while travelling in the blood stream.

With a pulmonary embolism the symptoms depend on the size of the clot:

  • Small clot - this might not cause any symptoms.
  • Medium clot - usually breathing difficulties with chest pain are experienced.
  • Large clot - can cause the lungs to collapse, which leads to heart failure.

NHS UK have found that about one in ten people who develop an untreated DVT will have a pulmonary embolism through a medium or large clot. Therefore, if you have any concerns or experience any of the symptoms described earlier, then go and get a check up from your doctor.

The main signs of a pulmonary embolism are:

  • Cough - this can be a non-productive dry cough or the coughing might produce blood and/or blood and mucous.
  • Feeling light-headed/dizzy, some people also pass out.
  • Chest pain - the pain usually feels very sharp, stabbing and is often made worse when you breath in.
  • Breathlessness - people often feel short of breath and this may come on suddenly or build up gradually.
  • People - for obvious reasons - may feel very anxious. They may also be sweating heavily.

If you have any of these symptoms you must seek medical attention immediately.

Treatment for a pulmonary embolism is anti-coagulant medication. Warfarin is one of the best known for this. Warfarin may also be given as a preventative treatment prior to surgery and other hospital procedures. Anti-coagulants not only prevent the blood from clotting, but with medicines like warfarin, they also break the clots down. However, there is a risk of internal bleeding with warfarin, so blood tests have to be carried out regularly to ensure that the clotting ability of blood is not reduced too far.

Warfarin or a similar drug may also be used to treat a DVT. Other treatments for DVT/blood clots include thrombolysis which is a chemical that destroys blood clots and is given by injection. However, not everyone is suitable to have this form of treatment. Surgery can also be performed to remove the clot - especially if there is a risk of gangrene - but this is only usually carried out as a last resort.


Post-thrombotic syndrome

This is a long-term condition that sometimes occurs and usually happens to people who have had a history of DVTs.

When a clot forms in one vein, the blood is diverted to other veins in order that the blood can continue to move as normally as possible. However, this can put too much pressure on other veins and the surrounding tissues start to become affected. This can lead to a rash, pain in the calf area of the leg, swelling and ulcers also develop. This condition only usually occurs to people who are overweight and have had a DVT more than once in the same leg.


As with any condition, prevention is always better than a cure. Keeping reasonably fit and your weight within normal limits are two of the best ways to prevent clots forming. However, if you do find that some of the symptoms described are developing, then speak to your doctor. Don't ignore the problem - it won't go away on it's own and the earlier a clot is discovered the easier and quicker the treatment.

Comments

Submit a Comment

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi ladydeonnne, many thanks for stopping by and glad that you found the hub useful.

    I'm sorry about the blood clot in your leg - how awful!! But I'm glad that you have been able to get medication that has helped you - and yes folks back in your Grandma's time didn't have many of the treatments that we now have and it cost lives. Luckily most people do survive clots in the legs although as nurse for many years I did look after people who had developed a pulmonary embolism. Most of them did survice so as you right said - 'thank God for medical science and research2"

  • ladydeonne profile image

    Deonne Anderson 

    5 years ago from Florence, SC

    Seeker7,

    This article has been very helpful to me. I had a blood clot in my right leg in 2011. I am a frequent walker. After walking with my dogs for about 15 miles per day for years, I had to stop walking after straining my knee. I took blood thinners for several months. My grandmother died from a blood clot in her leg in 1952. There were no blood thinners back then. Thank God for medical science and research! Great information.

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Kitty, lovely to hear from you - and I love the knew photo!

    Yes, it's a shame when that happens to someone so young and for it to lead to a stroke is terrible!! I stopped the birth control pills after only a few years - and because I smoked at the time - really due to all the complications that could arise. But as with the young woman you knew not everyone did escape from the consequences of the pill and cigarettes.

    Many thanks Kitty as always for your interesting comment!!

  • kittythedreamer profile image

    Nicole Canfield 

    5 years ago from Summerland

    I knew a fairly young woman who was on birth control pills and smoked. She ended up having a DVT without knowing it, which dislodged and traveled to her brain...she had an embolic stroke. How awful is that? Makes me want to re-think the hormones for sure! Great article, Seeker7. As always, lady. :)

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi teaches12345, many thanks for stopping by and glad that you enjoyed the hub! Hope your veins have settled. LOL!

  • teaches12345 profile image

    Dianna Mendez 

    5 years ago

    This is so interesting, but my veins are feeling the pain after viewing the details. Excellent post and so well detailed.

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Rasma, many thanks for stopping by and glad that you found the hub useful - thank you!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi ChitrangadaSharan, lovely to hear from you as always and glad that you enjoyed the hub!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Frank! What a lovely comment - thank you!

  • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

    Gypsy Rose Lee 

    5 years ago from Riga, Latvia

    Thanks for sharing another informative and useful hub. Passing this on.

  • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

    Chitrangada Sharan 

    5 years ago from New Delhi, India

    Thanks for enlightening about DVT.

    Very useful hub, voted up!

  • Frank Atanacio profile image

    Frank Atanacio 

    5 years ago from Shelton

    you know seeker I am learning a lot from your hubs so you know :) Frank

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