To prevent excess blood loss, your body has the extraordinary ability to clot blood. This is what stops you from bleeding when you cut yourself shaving or otherwise make yourself bleed. While this ability can be helpful when you cut your skin, it can also be dangerous when a clot forms in a vein, like a deep vein thrombosis. In fact, it can be life-threatening.
What is Deep Vein Thrombosis or DVT?
In people with venous disease or chronic venous insufficiency, there is a much higher risk of developing blood clots. The valves in the veins that prevent blood from flowing backward are faulty in someone with venous disease. This allows blood to pool in the vein and eventually the blood clots because it is not moving. The medical term for a blood clot is thrombus. When these clots form in the deep veins of the legs, arms, or abdomen, the blood clot is called a deep vein thrombosis, or DVT.
There are several warning signs of DVT, although the condition can be completely asymptomatic in some patients, meaning they see or feel no symptoms. When symptoms do appear, they typically include:
- Swelling in the area around the clot
- Redness of the skin above the clot
- Pain in the leg, arm, or abdomen, depending on where the clot is
- The area around the clot feels warm to the touch
- Discoloration of the skin around the DVT
DVT is Dangerous
What makes a DTV so dangerous is the complications it can cause. For example, a pulmonary embolism can be a life-threatening complication. A pulmonary embolism, or PE, is a small piece of the larger blood clot that has broken off and traveled to the lungs, causing a blockage. This blockage can cause difficulty breathing if it is small, but a large clot can prevent blood from getting to the lungs, which can be fatal.
If diagnosed early, people can recover from a pulmonary embolism, but the clot may cause damage to the lungs. A deep vein thrombosis can also cause permanent damage to the vein it’s in by damaging the valves in the vein, which are already weakened due to the venous disease that caused the DVT in the first place.
You can experience a pulmonary embolism without having any symptoms of a deep vein thrombosis. Symptoms of a pulmonary embolism include:
- Difficulty breathing or painful breathing
- Shortness of breath or rapid breathing
- Fast or irregular heart rate
- Heart palpitations
- Pain in your chest that is worse when you cough
- A cough that produces blood
- Low blood pressure
- Dizzy or lightheaded feeling
If you notice any of these symptoms or think you may have a DVT or PE, seek medical attention right away.
If your doctor thinks you may have deep vein thrombosis, he or she may order blood tests such as a D-dimer. When a blood clot dissolves, it produces a chemical called D-dimer. However, if you do not have a blood clot, but you do have a bruise, the test will come back positive.
Your doctor may also order an ultrasound of the leg to determine if you have a DVT and where it is located. This is the standard when it comes to diagnosing a deep vein thrombosis DVT as it allows your doctor to visualize the clot.
Risk Factors for Deep Vein Thrombosis
While anyone can get a DVT, some people are more predisposed to them than others. If you do any of the following, you may be increasing your risk of DVT:
- You are a smoker
- Eat a poor diet
- Take birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy
- Lack of exercise
- Being overweight
DVT Treatment in Northern Illinois
The standard treatment for a deep vein thrombosis is anticoagulants such as heparin, warfarin or Xarelto. These medications thin out the blood by preventing it from clotting and dissolving any clots that may be present already. The length of anticoagulant therapy varies from person to person, but is typically about three months. If anticoagulants do not work, or cannot be used, clots can be removed surgically.
Compression stockings may be used if your doctor determines the blood is superficial. This helps alleviate pain and swelling as well as prevents new clots from forming. In severe cases of DVT, the clot may need to be surgically removed. A stent may also be placed in the vein to help prevent future clots.
If you think you may have a deep vein thrombosis or are worried that you might be at risk for DVT or venous disease, contact us or schedule an appointment with the experts at Northern Illinois Vein Clinic. Our DVT specialist in Rockford, IL can help you determine if you are at risk for DVT or other venous diseases using state-of-the-art testing and diagnostics.