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Deep Vein Thrombosis

Health NewsTwo million Americans a year get what is called deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Six hundred thousand of them develop, from DVT, a pulmonary embolism (Read about "Pulmonary Embolism") and 60 thousand of them die, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). As you can see from the statistics, DVT can be deadly. But there are things you can do to avoid the problem in the first place.

What's DVT?

DVT is the forming of a blood clot in the deep veins, usually of the leg. If the vein swells, the condition is called thrombophlebitis. Veins are the vessels that return the blood to the heart. (Read about "Vascular System") The bigger the clot, the more dangerous the situation because parts of the clot can break off and follow the blood stream to another location. In the lungs, this results in a pulmonary embolism.

Causes and risks

Even healthy people can sometimes develop DVT after surgery with general anesthesia. (Read about "Anesthesia") NIH says patients undergoing various types of surgery - including general, orthopedic, and gynecological-obstetrical - are at higher risk for developing (DVT) and pulmonary embolism. Of these groups, orthopedic patients (Read about "Orthopedics") appear to be most at risk, particularly patients with hip fracture. (Read about "Hip Fractures") Patients with various types of medical diseases, usually chronic, are also at high risk for DVT. If you develop DVT, your doctor may test you for what is called thrombophilia. (Read about "Thrombophilia") Thrombophilias are a group of conditions and disorders that cause the blood to clot too easily.

Inactivity in the leg increases the chances. A sedentary job can put you at greater risk. Long-distance travel, especially by airplane, can cause the condition. If you are traveling, it is important to move around on a regular basis. (Read about "Travel and Health") Pregnant women have a higher risk, as do overweight people. (Read about "Healthy Pregnancy" "Obesity") In addition, the National Cancer Institute lists DVT as a risk factor to be considered in tamoxifen and hormone replacement treatments.

Symptoms, diagnosis and treatments

DVT can sometimes be what is called silent, meaning there are no symptoms. The first sign can sometimes be a pulmonary embolism. Pain in the leg and a swelling of the leg or the ankle are the most common signs of DVT.

If your doctor suspects DVT, there are several tests that can be used, including:

The main goals of treating DVT are to stop the blood clot from getting bigger, to prevent the blood clot from breaking off and traveling to another part of the body, and to reduce your risk of developing another DVT.

Treatment is important because of the possibility of complications. If a clot is discovered, blood thinning methods and drugs are usually the first treatment. Anticoagulants (blood thinners) are the medicines often used. Although called blood thinners, these medications do not actually thin the blood. They work by stopping the clotting process and preventing the clot from becoming larger. Examples include heparin, low molecular weight heparin (LMWH), rivaroxaban and warfarin. All of these medications can cause bleeding, so people taking them have to be monitored to prevent unusual bleeding. Compression stockings can be used to help the situation. Sometimes surgery is required.

Related Information:

    Vascular System

    The Heart & Cardiovascular System


    Peripheral Arterial Disease

    Glossary of Stroke Terms

    Heart Term Glossary

All Concept Communications material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.

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By printing and/or reading this article, you agree that you accept all terms and conditions of use, as specified online.