What is deep vein thrombosis
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot that partially or completely blocks a large vein (usually in the lower leg or thigh, like the popliteal vein) though it can occur in other parts of the body.1
DVT prevents deoxygenated blood from returning to the heart. As a result, circulation is blocked in the leg, which leads to pain and swelling.
If that blood clot breaks off, it becomes an embolus and can travel through the heart and lungs, blocking passage for blood flow there. A blood clot that travels to your lungs is called pulmonary embolism (PE).2 It can deprive the tissues of blood and damage tissues. DVT is very serious and can be fatal.
According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, blood clots in the thighs are more likely to break off and cause PE than blood clots in the lower leg. 3
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that as many as 900,000 Americans suffer from deep vein thrombosis or a pulmonary embolism each year and that 60,000 to 100,000 people die as a result.
It’s important to note that DVT is different from a blood clot (also known as superficial thrombophlebitis), which forms in the veins just beneath the skin. Superficial thrombophlebitis4 doesn’t usually travel to the lungs and can be treated with NSAIDs, bed rest, and warm compresses. DVTs are also different from blood clots that occur in the arteries, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
Deep Vein Thrombosis Symptoms
Common symptoms of DVT are pain and tenderness in the affected area, and redness or discoloration of the skin.5 If the DVT breaks off and becomes a PE, you may experience chest pain, rapid heartbeat, and difficulty breathing. Vomiting, coughing up blood, and fainting are also signs of a PE.
DVT and PE are serious, so if you have any of these signs or symptoms, seek help immediately.
Signs and Symptoms of Deep Vein Thrombosis
One of the biggest causes of DVT is being immobile and sitting for extended periods of time.6 Whether you’re recovering from surgery or sitting on a long flight, being inactive slows the blood flow and can prevent the platelets and plasma in your blood from mixing and circulating properly.
Having a major injury or surgery in the leg can also cause DVT. 7
Adults over age 60 are at the greatest risk for DVT, but women who are pregnant, taking birth control pills, or undergoing hormone replacement therapy are also at risk of clotting.
This is due to the increased levels of estrogen, which can cause blood to clot easily.8
Deep Vein Thrombosis Causes and Risk Factors
If you have a DVT, it’s important to get diagnosed right away before it becomes a pulmonary embolism.9 Once a PE blocks an artery in your lung, all blood flow is reduced or stopped completely, which can cause sudden death. Your doctor will most likely perform a compression ultrasound, but other tests, like a venogram, CT scan, or D-dimer test, can also be used to diagnose DVT.10 Through a compression ultrasound, your doctor is able to see the blood clot and the obstruction of blood flow in the vein.