Learning About Deep Vein Thrombosis

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What is deep vein thrombosis?

Veins of the leg

A deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot in certain veins of the legs, pelvis, or arms. The clot is usually in the legs. DVT may damage the vein and cause the area to ache, swell, and change colour. DVT also can lead to sores.

DVT in these veins needs to be treated because the clots can get bigger, break loose, and travel through the bloodstream to the lungs. A blood clot in a lung can cause death.

Blood clots can form in the veins when you are not active for a long period of time. For example, they can form if you need to stay in bed because of a health problem or must sit for a long time on an airplane or in a car. Surgery or an injury can damage your blood vessels and cause a clot to form. Cancer also can cause DVT. And some people have blood that clots too easily, which is a problem that may run in families.

A risk factor is something that makes you more likely to develop a disease.

Here are some major risk factors for DVT:

  • You have surgery.
  • You have to stay in bed for more than 3 days (such as in the hospital).
  • Your blood is likely to clot because of an injury, cancer, or inherited condition.

Here are some minor risk factors for DVT:

  • You take birth control hormones.
  • You are pregnant.
  • You are in a car or airplane for a long trip.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of DVT may include:

  • Swelling in the affected area.
  • Redness and warmth in the affected area.
  • Pain or tenderness. You may have pain only when you touch the affected area or when you stand or walk.

If your doctor thinks you may have DVT, you will probably have an ultrasound test. You may have other tests as well.

How can you prevent DVT?

  • Exercise your lower leg muscles to help blood flow in your legs. Point your toes up toward your head so the calves of your legs are stretched, then relax and repeat. This is a good exercise to do when you are sitting for long periods of time.
  • Get out of bed as soon as you can after an illness or surgery. If you need to stay in bed, do the leg exercise noted above every hour when you are awake.
  • Use special stockings called compression stockings. These stockings are tight at the feet with a gradually looser fit on the leg. Many doctors recommend that you wear compression stockings during a journey longer than 8 hours.
  • Take breaks when you are on long trips. Stop the car and walk around. On long airplane flights, walk up and down the aisle hourly, flex and point your feet every 20 minutes while sitting, and drink plenty of water.
  • Take blood-thinning medicines after some types of surgery if your doctor recommends it. Blood thinners also may be used if you are likely to develop clots.

How is DVT treated?

Treatment for DVT usually involves taking blood thinners. These medicines are given through a vein (intravenously, or IV) or as a pill. Talk with your doctor about which medicine is right for you.

Your doctor also may suggest that you prop up or elevate your leg when possible, take walks, and wear compression stockings. These measures may help reduce the pain and swelling that can happen with DVT.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

Go to http://www.healthwise.net/ed

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