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Deep Venous Thrombosis

What is deep venous thrombosis?

Deep venous thrombosis, or DVT, is a condition when a blood clot forms in a deep vein of the body. The deep veins in the legs, thighs, and hips are the most common sites for DVT. The clot prevents the normal flow of blood in the vein. The blood backs up and causes pain and swelling.

Deep Venous Thrombosis (DVT)

What increases my risk for DVT?

You may be at higher risk if you have had DVT before. The following conditions also increase your risk:

  • Damage to the blood vessel wall:

    • Foreign item in your body: A central venous catheter or an artificial heart valve may cause clots to form.

    • Tobacco: Smoking tobacco can injure blood vessel walls.

    • Varicose veins: These are veins that are enlarged, twisted, and swollen.

  • Poor blood flow:

    • Heart or lung conditions: Heart or lung failure will cause poor blood flow.

    • Obesity and aging: If you are obese or older than 50 years of age, you may have poor blood flow.

    • Long periods without activity: Clots may form if you are bedridden or sitting for many hours, such as on long air flights. Clots may form if you are not able to move much because you have had a stroke or spinal cord injury.

    • Pregnancy: Women are more likely to have DVT during pregnancy and right after giving birth. This may also be due to the increased levels of hormones present in the blood during this time.

    • Surgery or trauma: Major surgery, especially on your bones, blood vessels, or brain, increases your risk for DVT. Leg bones or hip fractures may also put you at risk.

  • Thickening of the blood:

    • Medicines: Medicines to treat psychosis and cancer, and medicines that contain the female hormone estrogen, can increase clot formation.

    • Medical conditions: Some conditions can cause clots to form without an injury to the blood vessel wall. These conditions include infections, heart attack, and inflammation of the bowels. Active cancer, kidney disease, and certain blood disorders may cause blood clots. Autoimmune disorders may also cause DVT.

What are the signs and symptoms of DVT?

You may see or feel any of the following on your hips, thighs, or legs:

  • Swelling

  • Hard, worm-like veins that you can feel through your skin

  • Painful, tender, red, or warm area

  • Purple skin

How is DVT diagnosed?

Your caregiver will ask about your medical history and examine you. Tell him about the medicines you take. He will ask if you have had DVT before. Tell him if you have had surgery or other procedures recently. He will ask if you have been ill, injured, or on a trip recently. You may need any of the following:

  • Blood tests: You may need blood taken to give caregivers information about how your body is working. The blood may be taken from your hand, arm, or IV.

  • Imaging tests:

    • Ultrasound: This is a test that uses sound waves to see your veins on a TV-like screen. Caregivers look for clots in the veins near your pain and redness.

    • Contrast venography: This is a special x-ray of a vein after a dye has been put in. The dye makes the vein easier to see on the x-ray. People who are allergic to shellfish (lobster, crab, or shrimp) may be allergic to this dye. Tell your caregiver if you are allergic to any of these.

How is DVT treated?

The goal of treatment is to break up clots and prevent new clots from forming. You may need any of the following:

  • Medicines:

    • Blood thinners: These medicines are given to treat a clot or prevent a clot from forming. Blood thinners may be given before, during, and after a surgery or procedure.

    • Clot busters: These are emergency medicines that work to dissolve blood clots. They cannot be used during pregnancy or in people with medical conditions that increase their risk of bleeding.

    • Vitamin K antagonists: These include medicines such as warfarin. They are used as long-term treatment to prevent clots from forming. You may need to have blood tests done while you take these medicines. Tell your caregiver if you know or think you are pregnant. These medicines may harm a fetus.

  • Vena cava filter: The vena cava is a large vein that brings blood from your lower body up to your heart. During this surgical treatment, a filter is placed inside the vena cava. The filter traps clots in your blood to prevent a pulmonary embolus.

How can I manage my DVT?

  • Compression stockings: These are tight elastic stockings that put pressure on your lower legs. The pressure is highest near the toe and decreases as it goes towards the thighs. This helps push blood back up to the heart and keeps clots from forming.

  • Elevate your legs: Elevate your legs when you sit or lie down. Use a foot stool or foot rest to raise your legs while sitting. Use pillows to raise your legs while in bed.

  • Exercise: Exercise, such as walking, will help increase your blood flow. Talk to your caregiver about the best exercise plan for you.

  • Change body positions often: If you travel by car or work at a desk, move and stretch in your seat several times each hour. In an airplane, get up and walk every hour. If you are bedridden, ask for help to change your position every 1 to 2 hours.

  • Eat a variety of healthy foods: This may help you have more energy and heal faster. Healthy foods include fruit, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meat, and fish. Ask if you need to be on a special diet.

  • Drink liquids as directed: Adults should drink between 9 and 13 eight-ounce cups of liquid every day. Ask how much liquid you should drink. For most people, good liquids to drink are water, juice, and milk.

  • Do not smoke: If you smoke, it is never too late to quit. Quitting smoking will improve your health and the health of those around you. If you smoke, ask for information about how to stop.

What are the risks of DVT?

  • The DVT can break into smaller pieces. Each piece is called an embolus. The embolus can travel to your heart, lungs, or brain, and decrease the blood supply to that organ. This can cause life-threatening conditions, such as a heart attack or stroke. A vena cava filter can cause more blood clots to form. Medicines used to treat DVT can cause growth problems in fetuses. These medicines can also cause life-threatening bleeding.

  • Increased pressure and decreased blood flow can damage the tissues around the clot. The valves in the deep veins that allow your blood to flow back to your heart can be damaged. This can cause long-term pain and swelling, such as in your leg. Contact your caregiver if you have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate help?

Seek immediate help or call 911 if:

  • You feel your heart beating very fast.

  • You have a severe headache or a seizure.

  • You are confused, sleepy, or cannot speak clearly.

  • You have weakness or cannot move your arm or leg on one side of your body.

  • Your arm or leg feels warm, tender, and painful. It may look swollen and red.

  • You suddenly feel lightheaded and have shortness of breath.

  • You have chest pain. You may have more pain when you take a deep breath or cough. You may cough up blood.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2015 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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