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Deep Vein Thrombosis Can Occur When Blood Clots Within a Vein

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a serious problem that usually occurs in the legs but may also occur in the pelvis or abdomen. It involves the formation of an immense blood clot located in one of the the many major veins located in the body. Although this condition usually causes pain or swelling, sometimes patients have no symptoms. DVT can cause severe conditions when a blood clot breaks free and travels to other parts of the body. About half of people who have DVT experience problems in their legs for months or years. Blood clots that travel to the lungs can cause pulmonary embolisms (PE) that can cause shortness of breath, chest pains and additional problems. About 10% of people who have DVT go on to develop pulmonary embolism. These individuals often incur lung damage.

Causes of Deep Vein Thrombosis

Several risk factors predispose some people to deep vein thrombosis. You're more likely to develop it if you are 60 or older. Any condition that prevents blood from flowing freely can cause blood clots in your legs. However, damage to veins from surgery or inflammation and damage from infection or injury are the most common reasons. Other common causes include:

  • Lack of movement, preventing the calf muscles from contracting
  • Pregnancy, which increases the pressure in pelvic and leg veins
  • Presence of an inherited clotting disorder
  • Oral contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy, both of which increase clotting
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Some cancers that affect the blood along with cancer treatments
  • Smoking
  • Heart failure
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBT)
  • Personal or family history of DVT
  • Genetics, as some people have DNA that causes their blood to clot more easily

On their own, these factors may not cause DVT, but when combined with other risk factors make the condition more likely to occur. DVT frequently occurs when driving or flying for long distances or when someone is bedridden for a long time.

Signs and Symptoms of Deep Vein Thrombosis

Deep vein thrombosis usually occurs on one side of the body, although it sometimes can occur in both legs simultaneously. For those who are asymptomatic, the first signs of DVT may only happen when they experience problems resulting from a pulmonary embolism. People are more apt to experience problems, with some symptoms mimicking other problems, making it essential to get a medical examination. DVT symptoms commonly include:

  • Throbbing pain in the calf or thigh
  • Swelling in the affected area of the leg
  • Changes in skin color, darkening to deep red or purple
  • Tenderness in the affected area, especially when standing
  • Skin that's warm to the touch
  • Pain that worsens when you bend your foot toward your knee
  • Veins that appear swollen or bulging

Treating Deep Vein Thrombosis

DVT patients must often undergo treatment for years to prevent blood clots from returning. The first line of treatment involves receiving injections of a blood thinner, usually for about five days. Patients may also need to take oral anticoagulants for three to six months following the initial diagnosis to prevent blood clot formation. Wearing compression stockings in addition to taking anticoagulants is also common. When patients cannot take blood thinners, doctors will place a small metal device called an inferior vena cava (IVC) filter inside the affected vein to trap clots before they can travel to your heart and lungs. This treatment is also common when DVT keeps returning. Other minimally invasive procedures for DVT include thrombectomy, where a surgeon will remove blood clots or inject clot-busting medicines, or place a stent in the affected veins to manage DVT when it affects different areas of the body.