What is DVT?
Deep vein thrombosis, or DVT, is a condition in which a blood clot forms within a vein and disrupts or blocks blood flow. DVT blood clots usually occur in the legs, and it is important to note that they can affect anyone. However, there are several risk factors that could increase the possibility of DVT, including:
- Vein injuries
- Increased estrogen
- Chronic illness, such as heart and lung diseases
- Limited movement or confinement, which can slow blood flow
- Family history of DVT or inherited disorders
DVT can lead to other serious conditions, such as a pulmonary embolism, or PE. PE can occur when a portion of a blood clot breaks off and becomes lodged in the lungs, which can damage the lungs or create a fatal blockage. Therefore, if you suspect you may have DVT it is important to see your doctor right away.
If you experience a combination of the following symptoms, you could potentially have DVT:
- Pain or swelling of the leg
- Warm feeling in the leg, or leg is warm to the touch
- Red or bluish discoloration of the skin in affected leg
DVT usually only occurs in one leg, unlike common muscle soreness that may occur in both legs after exercise. In addition, leg pain from DVT does not fade or go away on its own. This pain can feel like cramping, soreness, or a tingling sensation and usually begins in the lower leg. Pain that travels up the leg is a cause for concern because this means a piece of a blood clot may have broken off and is traveling through the bloodstream. The skin on the affected leg may also be warm to the touch or appear discolored in a bruise-like manner. If you have any combination of these symptoms, even mild ones, it is important to seek medical attention. Serious complications can often be avoided when treatment is received early on.
The process of diagnosing DVT is often fast and painless, thanks to Doppler ultrasound technology. A Doppler ultrasound can help find blood clots in the legs. Ultrasound is the most common, accurate, and non-invasive way to determine if DVT is present. Skilled ultrasound technologists can perform a diagnostic exam in a matter of minutes. A Registered Vascular Technologist will use a small handheld device to gently compress different parts of the leg. The live ultrasound images will show if there are any abnormalities of blood flow within the veins that may indicate DVT.
Common Diagnostic Process for DVT
- Patient visits their physician for a physical examination
- Physician will refer patient for an ultrasound for the legs
- Ultrasound technologist will perform a Doppler ultrasound exam on the legs
- Physicians will interpret the findings and recommend a treatment plan if necessary
There are several treatment options for DVT that are designed to remove the blood clots and prevent them from happening again. These include the following:
- Thrombolytic drugs
- Blood thinners
- IVC filters
- Compression socks
Treatments can include thrombolytic drugs that break up the clots and blood thinner medication that can help prevent a clot from breaking off as well as further clotting. For more serious instances of DVT, an inferior vena cava (IVC) filter may be inserted into the large vein to prevent clots from reaching the lungs. In addition, a common non-medicinal treatment is the use of compression socks. These specially designed knee-length socks help prevent leg swelling and future blood clots. A combination of treatments is often important because those who have had DVT in the past are at higher risk for blood clots in the future.
It’s important to remember that while DVT can lead to serious complications, it is highly treatable if detected early. If you experience multiple symptoms, you should seek medical attention. Your physician may recommend an exam to determine the presence of DVT, and Doppler ultrasound is a safe and accurate method to do this. Based on the ultrasound results, your physician can then determine the appropriate course of treatment. Although DVT can affect anyone, by being aware of the risk factors and symptoms you can take a proactive approach to your own health care.
Guest Contributor: Jordan Galerkin
- Venous Thromboembolism (Blood Clots). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/dvt/facts.html
- Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/deep-vein-thrombosis/symptoms-causes/syc-20352557
- Deep Venous Thrombosis Ultrasound Evaluation. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470453/