Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) occurs when a blood clot (thrombus) forms in one or more of the deep veins in your body, usually in your legs. Deep vein thrombosis can cause leg pain or swelling, but also can occur with no symptoms.
Deep vein thrombosis can develop if you have certain medical conditions that affect how your blood clots. It can also happen if you don't move for a long time, such as after surgery or an accident, or when you're confined to bed.
Deep vein thrombosis can be very serious because blood clots in your veins can break loose, travel through your bloodstream and lodge in your lungs, blocking blood flow (pulmonary embolism).
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) treatment is aimed at preventing the clot from getting bigger and preventing it from breaking loose and causing a pulmonary embolism. Then the goal becomes reducing your chances of deep vein thrombosis happening again.
Deep vein thrombosis treatment options include:
Blood thinners. Deep vein thrombosis is most commonly treated with anticoagulants, also called blood thinners. These drugs, which can be injected or taken as pills, decrease your blood's ability to clot. They don't break up existing blood clots, but they can prevent clots from getting bigger and reduce your risk of developing more clots.
The injectable medications can be given as a shot under the skin or by injection into your arm vein (intravenous).
Heparin is typically given intravenously. Other similar blood thinners, such as enoxaparin (Lovenox), dalteparin (Fragmin) or fondaparinux (Arixtra), are injected under the skin.
You might receive an injectable blood thinner for a few days, after which pills such as warfarin (Coumadin, Jantoven) or dabigatran (Pradaxa) are started. Once warfarin has thinned your blood, the injectable blood thinners are stopped.
Other blood thinners can be given in pill form without the need for an injectable blood thinner. These include rivaroxaban (Xarelto), apixaban (Eliquis) or edoxaban (Savaysa).
You might need to take blood thinner pills for three months or longer. It's important to take them exactly as your doctor instructs because taking too much or too little can cause serious side effects.
If you take warfarin, you'll need periodic blood tests to check how long it takes your blood to clot. Pregnant women shouldn't take certain blood-thinning medications.
Clot busters. If you have a more serious type of deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism, or if other medications aren't working, your doctor might prescribe drugs that break up clots quickly, called clot busters or thrombolytics.
These drugs are either given through an IV line to break up blood clots or through a catheter placed directly into the clot. These drugs can cause serious bleeding, so they're generally reserved for severe cases of blood clots.
Filters. If you can't take medicines to thin your blood, you might have a filter inserted into a large vein — the vena cava — in your abdomen. A vena cava filter prevents clots that break loose from lodging in your lungs.
Compression stockings. To help prevent swelling associated with deep vein thrombosis, these are worn on your legs from your feet to about the level of your knees.
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