Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a circulatory system problem that causes blood clots in the deep leg veins. It affects some 900,000 people annually, and about 100,000 of them die within the year. Since it doesn’t always cause symptoms, many people don’t know they have it until they hit a medical crisis.
At Heart Vascular & Leg Center, our expert team of board-certified vascular specialists understands vein disease and the part that DVT plays in its development. Here’s what they want you to know about the condition and how they can treat it.
Starting with chronic venous insufficiency (CVI)
Vein disease is a progressive condition affecting the venous side of the circulatory system loop. Your arteries carry oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood from the heart to the rest of the body; your veins return deoxygenated blood to the heart.
The veins have a more challenging job, working against the downward pull of gravity. One workaround they use is muscle contractions in the calf and thigh that squeeze the veins and push the blood upward. Another workaround is to use a series of small, one-way valves that close once the blood passes through, preventing backflow.
Unfortunately, vein walls and valves can be damaged by injury or, more commonly, by the force of high blood pressure. They can’t close completely, causing sluggish blood flow and backflow that pools around the valves. That state is known as chronic venous insufficiency, and its most readily apparent effect is engorged, colored swellings on the calves and thighs — varicose veins.
From CVI to DVT
Varicose veins usually affect the superficial veins, so they’re often prominent on the legs. In some people, small clots may develop in these veins, a condition called thrombophlebitis. More importantly, if the sluggish blood flow affects veins deep in the leg tissue, it can cause a sizable blood clot that may block the vein partially or entirely — deep vein thrombosis. Clots can also develop if your veins are narrowed due to plaque if you spend most of your time sitting or on bed rest following surgery..
Beyond the danger of having a clot block blood flow through the vein, the real threat of this condition is if the clot breaks free and travels through the bloodstream to the lungs. If it blocks a pulmonary artery, it’s called a pulmonary embolism (PE) — a life-threatening condition.
Symptoms of DVT
According to the CDC, DVT only causes symptoms in about 50% of people who have it. The symptoms include:
- Swelling in the leg, ankle, or foot with the clot
- Cramping in calf muscles
- Severe pain in foot and ankle
- Warm skin over the affected area
- Pale blue or red skin over the affected area
Signs the clot has broken free and is causing a PE include:
- Abrupt shortness of breath
- Rapid breathing
- Chest pain that’s worse when you breathe or cough
- Lightheadedness, dizziness, or fainting
- Rapid pulse
- Coughing up blood
If you experience the signs of PE, call 911 or go to your local emergency room ASAP!
DVT treatment aims to stop the clot from getting bigger and prevent it from breaking free. Your treatment may include:
- Blood thinners
- Thrombolytic medications: IV drugs that actively break up clots
- Compression stockings: improve blood flow and prevent clots
- Filters that prevent clots from moving to your lungs
Heart Vascular & Leg Center physicians also perform thrombectomies, surgical procedures that remove the clotted blood from your vein. Usually, we reserve this procedure for large clots or those causing damage to nearby tissue.
To reduce your risk of developing DVT, the doctor may recommend sclerotherapy, a minimally invasive procedure that destroys the damaged vein. They inject a saline solution into the affected vein. It irritates the walls, causing them to swell and then collapse. Your body routes the blood to nearby healthy veins, and the diseased vein is flushed out over time by your lymphatic system.
If you notice varicose veins on your legs, it’s time to come into Heart Vascular & Leg Center for an evaluation to determine if it’s progressed to DVT. To get started, call our office at 661-443-5524 to schedule a consultation or book online today.