Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a serious type of blood clot that forms in the deep venous system. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as many as 900,000 people are affected by DVT each year in the United States.
When left untreated, the effects of deep vein thrombosis can be dire. Estimates suggest that 60,000-100,000 Americans die each year of DVT/pulmonary embolism, a dangerous complication. Among people who have experienced DVT, one-third to one-half will have long-term complications like leg pain, swelling, and discoloration. This is known as post-thrombotic syndrome (PTS).
For all of these reasons, it is important to do everything you can to prevent deep vein thrombosis. It is also crucial to know the signs and symptoms of DVT, so you know when to seek potentially life-saving medical treatment.
We want you to be aware that one cause of DVT is vein disease, also known as venous insufficiency. This common health condition is also the underlying cause of varicose and spider veins. Most commonly, the legs, ankles, and feet are impacted.
Vein disease occurs when tiny, one-way valves in the veins are placed under chronic strain and begin to malfunction. Since your veins are responsible for transporting blood back to the heart, malfunctioning valves can lead to your blood pooling in place, flowing backward, or clotting.
Both genetics and lifestyle factors play roles in the development of vein disease, deep vein thrombosis, and other venous conditions. A vein specialist can work with you to identify your risk factors and implement a treatment plan, when necessary. At USA Vein Clinics, we provide minimally invasive, outpatient treatment for a range of venous conditions, including varicose veins, spider veins, and deep vein thrombosis.
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What Is Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)?
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) occurs when a blood clot develops in the deep venous system. Most commonly, the legs are affected. Vessels in the deep venous system are responsible for transporting the vast majority of your body’s blood to the heart for reoxygenation. Deep veins are so named because they are located deep within the body, surrounded by muscle. Superficial veins, on the other hand, are located near the skin’s surface.
DVT can cause a range of painful symptoms, which we will discuss in detail below. If you are considered at risk for DVT, it is important to be on the lookout for symptoms.
Deep vein thrombosis is a dangerous health condition requiring immediate medical care. If left untreated, DVT can lead to pulmonary embolism, which is a life-threatening condition. A pulmonary embolism occurs when a blood clot located in the deep vein system breaks off, travels to the lungs, and blocks blood flow in the lungs.
Symptoms of pulmonary embolism include unexplained shortness of breath, chest pain, and cough. If you have been diagnosed with vein disease or DVT and experience symptoms of a pulmonary embolism, call 911 or head directly to the nearest emergency room.
Signs of Deep Vein Thrombosis
To avoid potentially serious complications, we suggest being on the lookout for deep vein thrombosis leg symptoms.
Some of the warning signs of deep vein thrombosis include:
- Leg pain: Deep vein thrombosis pain most often occurs in the calf. Leg pain or discomfort can manifest as cramping, soreness, or tenderness. You should be aware that pain can range from mild to severe.
- Swelling: If you have DVT, you may notice deep vein thrombosis swelling in one of your legs. Rarely, both legs are affected. We recommend that unexplained, one-sided leg swelling should be evaluated as soon as possible.
- Warmth: Sometimes, the presence of DVT can cause the surrounding region to feel warm or hot to the touch when compared to other areas of the body. For example, you may notice that one leg feels warmer than the other.
- Redness or skin discoloration: Keep an eye out for skin changes on the legs, especially when accompanied by pain, swelling, or warmth. Any type of skin discoloration should be evaluated by a medical professional.
These symptoms can also indicate other serious health issues, such as infection. Symptoms of infection may include pain, swelling, warmth, and redness or skin discoloration. To determine what is going on in your individual situation, we recommend seeking urgent care.
Deep Vein Thrombosis Causes and Risk Factors
Deep vein thrombosis can be caused by anything that prevents blood in the deep veins from circulating properly through the legs and ankles. For instance, DVT can develop as a result of vein disease, an injury to a vein, or a clotting disorder.
Lifestyle factors can also play a significant role, such as:
- Age: If you are over age 60, you are more likely to develop DVT. However, deep vein thrombosis in young adults, children, and individuals of all ages can occur.
- Smoking: Individuals who smoke have an increased risk for a range of health conditions, including vein disease and DVT. Quitting smoking can significantly improve your health.
- Obesity: If you struggle to maintain a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI), you should be aware of a connection between obesity and deep vein thrombosis. Losing excess weight may help reduce your overall risks.
There are many risk factors for DVT, and 50% of patients who suffer from DVT have more than one risk factor. DVT risk factors include:
- Prior DVT: A history of either DVT or pulmonary embolism is a risk factor for recurrent DVT.
- Cancer: There exists a clear connection between cancer and blood clots. Certain types of cancers and some cancer treatments affect your body’s clotting mechanisms.
- Pregnancy: Pregnancy is a well-known risk factor for deep vein thrombosis. Pregnancy places additional strain on the veins, which can lead to blood clots. The risk is greatest during the post-partum period and for women who have had multiple pregnancies.
- Genetics: A personal or family history of venous issues can place you at increased risk for DVT.
- Prolonged periods of standing or sitting: If you have a job or participate in an activity that requires long periods of standing or sitting, you are more likely to experience DVT. To promote better blood flow to your lower extremities, try to take frequent breaks to move around. When stuck in place, it may be helpful to stretch and massage your legs and feet.
- Other serious health conditions: Diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, chronic kidney disease, rheumatoid arthritis, COVID-19, and other medical conditions are known risk factors for DVT.
- Injury: DVT can develop in areas of injury, such as near a severe bruise or broken bone. Even minor injuries can increase your risk.
- Birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy: Contraceptives increase the risk of DVT, especially in younger women, while most commonly post-menopausal women undergoing hormone replacement therapy are at a higher risk for DVT.
- Vein disease: As mentioned previously, vein disease is an underlying risk factor for deep vein thrombosis. To help prevent DVT, watch for symptoms of vein disease.
If you are concerned about DVT, we recommend consulting a vein specialist. Our experts are available to evaluate symptoms of vein disease and other venous issues.
Deep Vein Thrombosis Diagnosis
To diagnose deep vein thrombosis, your doctor may begin by asking about your symptoms and risk factors, or performing a physical examination. If DVT is suspected, they can order ultrasound imaging and blood laboratory testing for confirmation.
Early intervention is key because DVT can lead to life-threatening conditions. We recommend seeking diagnosis and treatment from our expert vein specialists if you are experiencing symptoms, are at risk, or have a past history of blood clots.
How to Treat Deep Vein Thrombosis
After you receive a DVT diagnosis, your doctor will make treatment recommendations. Although your initial diagnosis may occur in an emergency room due to the life-threatening risk for pulmonary embolism, we generally advise consulting a vein specialist as soon as possible to manage your continuing care.
At USA Vein Clinics, our vein specialists have a number of treatment goals:
- To alleviate painful symptoms
- To prevent dangerous health complications
- To reduce your risk of additional venous issues
Your deep vein thrombosis treatment plan may include:
- Medications: You may be prescribed blood thinners and/or clot busters, depending on the severity of your DVT. Be sure to take medications exactly as prescribed.
- Compression socks: Deep vein thrombosis compression stockings can prevent blood from pooling and clotting in your legs. These garments can also alleviate painful leg swelling and other symptoms. After a DVT diagnosis, daily use of compression socks may be recommended for an extended period of time.
Deep Vein Thrombosis Prevention
There are a number of ways to reduce your risks of developing DVT. Our vein specialists generally recommend the following:
- Maintain a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI)
- Exercise regularly
- Eat a healthy, well-rounded diet
- Quit smoking
- Avoid prolonged periods of standing or sitting
- Manage underlying health conditions
- Wear deep vein thrombosis compression stockings
- Consult a vein specialist
In some cases, a minimally invasive, outpatient treatment procedure may be recommended to treat underlying vein disease and help prevent DVT. At USA Vein Clinics, we specialize in performing:
- Endovenous Laser Treatment (EVLT)
- Varithena Varicose Vein Treatment
- ClariVein® Treatment
- Ultrasound-Guided Sclerotherapy
- VenaSeal Treatment™
Schedule a Consultation at USA Vein Clinics
To prevent potentially life-threatening complications from DVT, we recommend early treatment of underlying vein disease. At USA Vein Clinics, our vein specialists provide a range of non-surgical, outpatient treatments that aim to improve circulation to the legs and throughout the entire body.
Although treatment recommendations can vary from person to person, all of our state-of-the-art medical procedures aim to seal off malfunctioning veins and reroute blood flow to healthy, surrounding ones. We offer 90 clinic locations nationwide, along with convenient telemedicine options. No matter where you decide to book your appointment, we can help you discover better vein health. We look forward to meeting you soon.