Deep vein thrombosis, or DVT, is a dangerous condition because it could cause pulmonary embolisms.
DVT is a blood clot that forms in the veins in your legs – usually the large, deeper veins. The clots can sometimes form in the veins in your arms, though that is not as common. Blood travels through “roads” in your body – veins carry “used” blood, blood that is deoxygenated – back to your heart and lungs, while arteries carry oxygenated blood through your body, providing oxygen and nutrients throughout your body.
Veins have less pressure than arteries, but the blood travels just as fast through the veins as the arteries. If a clot breaks off in the leg veins, it is a straight shot up the veins to the heart and lungs.
How DVT and Pulmonary Embolisms are Related
A clot can form in a vein for several reasons, including vein wall damage, hypercoagulability (predisposition to form clots), and stasis, which is a lack of blood movement. Damage to veins can also come from surgeries and trauma. Hypercoagulability is sometimes due to genetics or issues such as cancer or trauma. And, stasis happens when you are immobilized, such as sitting in an airplane for hours or having your leg in a cast.
If the blood clot is large enough, when dislodged, it can travel up the veins to the heart become trapped in the main vessel leaves the right side of the heart (the pulmonary artery), which is like damming up a lake. This is called a massive pulmonary embolism and usually sudden death results. If it doesn’t get stuck in the pulmonary artery, it makes it to your lung, where it prevents the lung from doing its job to exchange oxygen. This can make the patient feel short of breath or cough. Learn more about DVT and how it causes pulmonary embolisms.
How Often Does DVT Cause Pulmonary Embolisms?
Once a blood clot forms in your legs or your arms, it can become dislodged because of the pressure in your veins. It can then moves through the veins to the heart and into the lung, causing a pulmonary embolism.
Every year about 2 million people suffer from deep vein thrombosis. Of those, about 600,000 are hospitalized for the condition. And, up to 200,000 people could suffer from pulmonary embolism every year because of a DVT.
A pulmonary embolism happens when the clot is forced through the veins and the right side of your heart and into your lung. The clot becomes trapped in the lung – a pulmonary embolism – because the blood vessels in the lung are too small to allow the clot to pass through.
Diagnosing DVT with Ultrasound
Some of the signs of deep vein thrombosis include pain and swelling, warmth, leg cramps, redness, pain in your legs that gets worse when you bend your foot, and skin discoloration – your skin could be white or blue. In some cases, you may not have any symptoms, while others might have one or more and, yet still, others will have all of the symptoms.
If you suspect you have a DVT, you can get some tests, like a D-Dimer blood test. However, the easiest way to find a DVT is with ultrasound.
An ultrasound can show the location and size of a clot. In some cases, the ultrasound shows if the blood clot is new or chronic. However, the ultrasound does have its limits – it can see larger veins above your knee better than the smaller veins that are below your knee.
If a medical professional suspects that a clot moved into your pelvis or chest, he or she may need to use another test to find the clot, as the ultrasound may not pick up a clot in those areas. This can require a test called a CT pulmonary angiogram to see the blood vessels in the lungs.
How to Treat Deep Vein Thrombosis
The most common way to treat deep vein thrombosis is with anticoagulants to thin the blood clot. If the DVT is not complicated, the treatment usually lasts about three months.
However, underlying conditions and the reason you developed a clot could change the length of time for treatment. If the clot is superficial, your medical professional could opt to treat it with warm compresses, ibuprofen or naproxen, and / or leg compression.
Medications include warfarin, enoxaparin and heparin. More recently, it is common to use Eliquis, Xarelto, Savaysa or Pradaxa, especially if you have a pulmonary embolism. These drugs are easier for the patient as they do not involve shots or blood draws or dietary changes. Also, they tend to have better results than warfarin.