What is deep vein thrombosis?
Deep vein thrombosis is a condition where a blood clot develops within a deep vein in the body, usually in the leg. The blood veins, which transport the blood back to the heart are called veins. When the deep veins in the legs are blocked, the blood cannot be transported back to the heart. The area affected by the blood clot will become swollen due to the accumulation of blood and fluids. Blood clots might arise when the combination of the various elements present in blood is off, causing the blood to clot more easily. Each year, deep vein thrombosis affects around one person in every 1,000 in the UK, and women are more prone to the condition than men.
What are the symptoms of deep vein thrombosis?
Deep vein thrombosis can manifest itself in various ways. Typically, the following symptoms are present:
- Warm skin, redness and swelling of one leg
- Tenderness and muscle tension
- Blood vessels might become more apparent
A serious complication to deep vein thrombosis is a pulmonary embolism. This condition arises when a blood clot breaks loose and travels with the blood from the leg to the heart and into the lungs. Here, the blood clot ends up blocking a blood vessel. Pulmonary embolism is a very serious condition which can cause severe breathing difficulties. Pulmonary embolism requires immediate medical attention.
What are the causes of deep vein thrombosis?
The cause of deep vein thrombosis is often being inactive for long periods, for instance during a long journey or after an operation. This is because blood clots form more easily when the blood flows slowly. In addition, a number of factors may contribute to the development of blood clots and thus deep vein thrombosis. These factors include cancer, overweight, pregnancy and contraceptive pills. Women who have a family history of blood clots should therefore avoid using contraceptive pills.
How is the diagnosis made?
To determine whether there is a blood clot in the leg, blood samples will often be taken to see if the blood has a tendency to form clots. Often the doctor will check the blood’s concentration of D-dimer, as this value is a good indication of deep vein thrombosis. The D-dimer test is however always supported by an ultrasound scan.
How is deep vein thrombosis treated?
Since blood clots may cause great damage and in more severe cases lead to pulmonary embolism, it is important to prevent the blood clot from spreading in the acute treatment. It should therefore be dissolved as quickly as possible. This is done using blood thinners, for instance Heparin. You might also need to take warfarin for up to six months after the blood clot. To prevent deep vein thrombosis, it is recommended to wear compression stockings, to stop smoking and to take regular exercise.