When blood moves too slowly in your veins, it can cause a clump of blood cells (a blood clot or Thrombus). Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a condition in which a blood clot forms in the deep vein located in the leg, thigh, or pelvis. While Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is common in the lower leg, it can also develop in other body parts, including the arms. So, how do blood clots form in the veins, and is it dangerous?
To answer this, let us look at how the blood circulates in the body. The blood circulatory system consists of two blood vessels, namely the arteries and veins. The arteries carry blood rich in nutrients and oxygen from the heart, while the veins carry the deoxygenated blood back to the heart. Arteries have thin muscles within their walls that make them capable of withstanding the pumping pressure from the heart. However, the veins have no muscle lining and entirely depend on the muscle movement to take the blood back to the heart.
How do Blood Clots Form?
The venous system in the legs consists of two main veins, the superficial veins, and deep veins. As the name suggests, deep veins are located deep within the muscles. On the other hand, superficial veins are located just below the skin and are easily visible. Typically, the blood flows from the superficial veins into the deep venous system through perforator veins. Both the perforator and superficial veins have valves that allow blood to flow in one direction.
However, when blood travels slowly in the veins or pools in the veins, the platelets tend to stick together. While a blood clot (thrombus) in the deep venous system of your leg is not dangerous by itself, it can become life-threatening when it breaks and travels to enter the pulmonary vein. When the blood clot blocks a pulmonary artery, it decreases the amount of oxygen absorbed in the blood, causing a life-threatening condition known as pulmonary embolism.
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is considered a medical emergency. According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention), 10 – 30 percent of individuals who develop leg DVT experience life-threatening complications within a month of diagnosis.
Deep Vein Thrombosis – Symptoms
Like other disorders that affect the venous system, some individuals with DVT may not notice any symptoms. However, if the symptoms develop, people with deep vein thrombosis (DVT) may experience the following:
- Sharp pain in the affected limb that starts in the calf
- Red or discolored skin on the affected limb
- Swelling in the affected limb
- Enlarged veins
- Increased warmth in the swollen, painful region
Most often, deep vein thrombosis (DVT) affects only one leg, although, on rare occasions, the condition may develop in both legs. If the blood clot (thrombus) breaks and travels up to the lung, a person suffering from pulmonary embolism may have the following symptoms;
- Sudden breathlessness or slow breathing
- Rapid breath
- Increased heart rate
- Chest pain that worsens when breathing deeply
Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) Causes and Risk Factors
Sometimes, deep vein thrombosis (DVT) develops without a clear cause. However, according to findings done by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), DVT occurs due to one or a combination of the following underlying conditions and risk factors.
Deep Vein Thrombosis – Diagnosis
Deep vein thrombosis leads to various health cases, including life-threatening conditions such as pulmonary embolism.
If you suspect that you have any of the discussed symptoms, seeking immediate medical intervention is crucial. Your physician will ask you various questions about your medical history and symptoms before performing a physical examination. Some of the tests that help the doctor in diagnosing the condition include:
An ultrasound test is effective in detecting blood flow alteration and blood clots. The doctor uses a handheld device that sends sound waves into the blood vessels and displays the picture on a computer showing the condition of your blood veins.
To get a clearer picture, the doctor may request a venogram. The procedure involves the injection of a special dye that makes the veins appear on X-ray images.
Deep Vein Thrombosis – Complications
As mentioned, DVT can lead to life-threatening conditions. The main DVT complications include:
Pulmonary Embolism (PE)
PE is a severe DVT complication that develops if a blood clot travels through the blood vessels and reaches the lungs. When the blood clot is stuck, it disrupts the flow of blood into the lungs. A medium-sized clot can lead to intense chest pain and breathing problems. In more severe cases, the lungs can collapse and even lead to heart failure.
People with recurrent DVT are at high risk of post-thrombotic syndrome. An individual with this condition might experience the following symptoms.
- A feeling of heaviness in the leg
- Swelling in the calf that doesn’t go down
- Having fatigued legs
- A pulling sensation in the affected limb
- Development of new varicose veins
- Skin discoloration/redness on the affected leg
- Fluid buildup in the affected limb
- Skin thickening and sometimes ulcer on the affected leg
Treatments for Deep Vein Thrombosis
Unlike varicose veins, spider veins are harmless. Most people seek treatment for cosmetic reasons. However, treatment will also alleviate the mild yet persistent discomfort this condition sometimes causes. In lighter cases of DVT, the vascular specialist will try natural treatments with medications and compression stockings. If those treatments don’t work, the specialist will do minimally invasive treatments of IVC Filter Placement & Removal, Thrombectomy and Thrombolysis.
What to Expect from Your Visit to Pedes
Your treatment will begin with an ultrasound examination of your veins, arteries, or both, in your legs to diagnose the presence and extent of the disease. Your test results will be immediately available to review with the doctor.
Once we review the results of your diagnostic tests, our physicians will help you develop a plan to provide you with the best treatment for your disease.
Depending on the extent of disease in your arteries or veins, our specialists may recommend minimally invasive intervention and/or prescribe medications to help your symptoms.
It is important to make sure that you return for every scheduled follow-up appointment to ensure that your disease is appropriately monitored. If you ever have any questions or concerns, please call or schedule a follow-up appointment with our staff.