According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), between 300,000 and 600,000 Americans experience DVT in any given year. Sometimes DVT can cause more serious conditions like heart attacks, strokes, or pulmonary embolism (blood clot in the lungs), but fatal complications are rare. Between 10 and 30 percent of people with DVT will die.
What Causes DVT
This condition develops as a result of conditions that cause blood clots to form. For example, after major surgery, patients are at risk to develop clots. Clots can form during long road trips or flights or as a result of specific medical conditions like heart arrhythmias. Some studies link oral contraceptives to an increased risk of blood clots, especially in women over 35. Other risk factors for blood clots include:
- Having a pacemaker
- Certain gastrointestinal disorders
Symptoms of DVT
About half of the time a person experiences DVT, no symptoms present. When symptoms do occur they're generally in one leg. Keep in mind that DVT can occur in other areas of the body, but is most prevalent in the legs. When DVT happens, symptoms may include:
- Swelling in leg, ankle, and foot
- Pain similar to muscle cramp or charley horse
- Warm skin over affected spot
- Skin that turns red, blue, or is extremely pale in comparison to other areas
If these symptoms present, contact your doctor right away.
When you see your physician, he will ask you questions and conduct an exam. He will likely send your for additional testing to determine whether or not you have DVT. These tests may include:
- Blood tests
- Cat scan or MRI
- X-Ray with contrast dye
While a DVT diagnosis is disturbing, remember that most of the time it's easily deal with.
Handling DVT effectively should result in keeping the clot from growing, keeping it from moving somewhere else in the body, and reducing chances of recurring DVT. There are several different treatment options for DVT. Your doctor will likely prescribe a blood thinning drug to prevent the clot from getting any larger and a clot-busting drug to help break it down. When patients can not take these medications, a filter inserted into the vena cava helps prevent clots from traveling to the lungs.
Complications from DVT
The most common and most concerned complication from DVT is pulmonary embolism. When a clot lodges in the lungs, the results can be deadly. When DVT is present, it's imperative to watch for symptoms of pulmonary embolism which are:
- Sudden shortness of breath
- Chest pain that gets more severe with deep breathing
- Dizziness, fainting
- Racing heartbeat
- Bloody cough
These symptoms require medical attention right away.
Another complication from DVT known as postphlebetic or postthrombotic syndrome occurs when the veins affected by DVT became damaged resulting in reduced blood flow to that area. Symptoms of this disorder may not present right away and sometimes do not show for years after the DVT event. Signs of postphlebetic syndrome are very similar to DVT and include swelling, pain, and skin changes.
There are several steps you can take to lower your risk for developing DVT again. Take your medications as prescribed and stay in contact with your doctor. Consider alternate birth control if you're over 35. Monitor vitamin K intake, which can interfere with how well the blood thinning medications work. Exercise calf muscles often by moving around often. Working out, losing weight, and quitting smoking are all ways to reduce the risk of recording DVT.
Knowing risk factors for DVT and its symptoms may save your life someday.