If you are experiencing a medical emergency, please call 911 or seek care at an emergency room.
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a condition in which a blood clot forms in one or more deep veins in your body—most often in the legs and sometimes in the arms. People who have DVT in the lower extremities often experience:
- A hot burning sensation in the legs
- New pain or intense cramping while walking
- Swelling in an extremity
DVT affects as many as 900,000 Americans each year. People often develop DVT because they have a known or undiagnosed bleeding disorder, recently had an invasive surgery, or have been temporarily immobile due to a long plane ride or bed rest.
Our team successfully identifies and treats people with DVT every day. Recently, we saw a patient who frequently flew all around the world for work. After her flight landed in Washington, D.C., the patient experienced a swollen, painful leg. Under our care, the patient was seen and diagnosed with DVT. We were able to perform minimally invasive rapid clot removal for her and also identified the reason for her DVT—a central venous compressive syndrome called May-Thurner Syndrome—which we were able to treat with a stent. The patient returned home that night and was back at work the next day.
LISTEN: Dr. Abramowitz discusses DVT treatment and prevention in the Medical Intel podcast.
How We Diagnose and Treat DVT
To diagnose DVT, we typically begin with taking patient’s history to identify potential provoking risk factors and perform a physical exam. We’ll often perform an ultrasound to detect any blood clots. The ultrasound is a considerably quick test that’s usually done at the bedside and doesn’t require patients to experience radiation exposure.
Most people with DVT are treated with an anticoagulation agent, also known as a blood thinner. Anticoagulation agents are effective because they reduce the chances of additional blood clots forming while patients’ bodies naturally break down the blood clot. The body’s own process can take three to six months to dissolve the clot. For some patients with extensive blood clot formation, we can use minimally invasive techniques to remove the clot using a catheter (a plastic tube or hose). This allows us to directly remove the clot in a procedure called mechanical thrombectomy, which removes the clot using retrieval devices, such as a vacuum suction. We use clot-busting medication to assist with this process.
Related Reading: How Mechanical Thrombectomy is Revolutionizing Stroke Care
The risk of leaving DVT untreated depends on where in the body the DVT is and how long it’s left untreated. Blood clots below the knee usually cause swelling short-term but don’t necessarily result in long-term damage to the leg. However, blood clots above the knee, especially those that extend above the groin and into the veins in your belly and pelvis, can lead to long-term drainage problems from the leg. These issues sometimes result in post-thrombotic syndrome, or long-term swelling, wounds on the legs and pain. Untreated DVT can also result in clots breaking free. Once in circulation, clots can travel to the lungs and causing a pulmonary embolism, a potentially fatal condition in which one or more arteries in the lungs become blocked.
Can DVT Be a Sign of a More Serious Condition?
While DVT is a condition in and of itself, it’s important to determine what caused a patient’s blood clots to ensure they don’t recur and identify any serious underlying medical conditions. DVT can be caused by genetic conditions, inflammatory autoimmune disorders, or even be the first sign that someone has cancer.
#DVT, or #bloodclots in the deep veins, can be linked to other medical conditions. Vascular surgeons work to not only treat blood clots but also attempt to identify what caused them. https://bit.ly/2Zj6cty via @MedStarWHC
Tips to Prevent DVT
The best thing people can do to prevent DVT is to get up and move around. If you travel long distances by car, train, or airplane, or if you sit at a desk during work for long hours every day, make sure you stand up and move every hour or so. If you’re immobile due to surgery or another health condition, keep your blood circulating by doing exercises, such as ankle flexes or leg lifts, to activate the muscles in your legs.
Our team at MedStar Washington Hospital Center offers the latest, most effective techniques for treating DVT. And after treating DVT, we make sure we identify the reason you developed it in the first place. Make sure to reach out to a doctor if you’re experiencing symptoms of DVT—we’re here to help.