Geelong Vascular Service - A/Prof David McClure - Vascular & Endovascular Surgeon
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Venous Disease

Deep Vein Thrombosis

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a condition in which blood clot (thrombus) is formed in deep veins with-in your body. The blood clot occurs when the blood thickens or clumps together. It commonly affects the large veins in the lower leg and thigh although it can affect any part of the body.

Several factors such as sitting for a long time while travelling, inherited blood disorders, prolonged hospital stay or bed rest, injury to the veins from surgery, certain cancers, pregnancy, smoking, obesity, heart failure and hormone replacement therapy may increase the chance of developing DVT.

Deep vein thrombosis can lead to pulmonary embolism, a condition where the blood clot breaks off from the vein and travel through the bloodstream to the lungs and blocks the blood flow. The loose clots are termed as embolus. Pulmonary embolism is a very serious condition and can be fatal if left untreated.

Another condition called as post-phlebitic syndrome may develop which is characterised by long term swelling of the leg (oedema), skin discoloration and pain in the leg. These symptoms may be observed immediately or may develop after some years.

Blood clots in the thigh can easily break off resulting in pulmonary embolism, whereas blood clots in the legs and other parts of the body do not break off as easily.

In many cases, DVT do not cause noticeable symptoms but when they occur you may observe pain and swelling in the affected leg including ankle and foot, increased warmth over the affected area and changes in your skin colour. If you develop sudden difficulty in breathing, chest pain or discomfort, dizziness, sweating, coughing blood and nervousness it may indicate pulmonary embolism, which is a medical emergency.

Your doctor will perform a physical examination to check for the areas of swelling, tenderness or skin discolouration. Other tests such as a D-dimer blood test leg, ultrasound, and CT or MRI scan that provides pictures of your veins may be ordered. Another test less commonly performed is venography, where a contrast dye is injected into the large vein of the foot or ankle and X-rays are taken to see the vein in the affected area.

There are several treatment options available to treat DVT condition and they include:

  • Medications - Anti-coagulants also called blood thinners that decrease blood's ability to clot may be prescribed.  These medications do not dissolve the existing clots, but helps in preventing the clot from becoming bigger. Clot busters or thrombolytics are used to break up the clots and are prescribed only in life threatening situations.
  • Compression stockings – Compression stockings are usually worn on the legs to reduce swelling that may occur after a blood clot has developed in your leg. The stocking creates pressure and improves the blood flow in your legs and reducing the risk of developing blood clots. These stockings should be worn regularly for at least a year.

Surgery may be rarely needed if the prescribed medications do not work.

Placement of Filter – During the surgery a filter is placed in the large vein to prevent the blood clots that break loose from traveling to the lungs.

If you are at a risk of developing DVT, you can help prevent the condition by

  • Regular check-up's
  • Taking prescribed medications
  • Wearing compression stockings
  • Exercise: Stretching or moving your leg when you are travelling or while sitting for a longer time.
  • Modifying life style habits such as losing weight, quitting smoking, and controlling your blood pressure.
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