Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) occurs when a blood clot forms in a vein deep inside the tissues, usually in the leg. Sometimes it produces characteristic symptoms, but sometimes there are no obvious symptoms, meaning you’re not aware you need treatment. Left untreated, though, your risk for developing life-threatening complications increases significantly.
At Comprehensive Vascular Care, with offices in Southfield and Novi, Michigan, our vascular, vein, and wound care specialists are experts in the diagnosis and treatment of deep vein thrombosis. So you’ll know when you need to seek medical care for your vein problems, they’ve put together this guide to get you started.
But first a word about chronic venous insufficiency (CVI)
Your veins are a key component of your circulatory system. They return deoxygenated blood from the body’s tissues to the heart, and do it against the pull of gravity. One method the body uses is calf muscle contractions; each contraction pushes the blood forward. Another method is a series of one-way valves that close once the blood passes through.
If the vein walls become damaged, though, the valves may not close completely. This causes flow to become sluggish and blood to pool around the valves, a condition known as chronic venous insufficiency. The most noticeable effect is colored, ropy-looking swellings on the thighs and calves — varicose veins. These may have no symptoms, or they may progress to more medically significant stages.
From CVI to DVT
If varicose veins affect the deep veins rather than the superficial ones, they can cause a clump of blood, or a clot, to form in those veins — deep vein thrombosis. The clots can also form if your veins are narrowed or blocked (the same as happens to your arteries); you spend most of your time sedentary, which impedes proper circulation; or you’re on bed rest after surgery.
Clots can be dangerous! The problem is parts can break off and travel through the bloodstream to the lungs. If they lodge there, they can cause a pulmonary embolism (PE), a life-threatening condition.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), symptoms are present only in about half of those who have DVT. Those symptoms include:
- Swelling in the ankle, foot, or leg where the affected vein is located
- Severe pain
- Muscle cramping in the calf of the affected leg
- Skin over the vein that’s warm to the touch
- Skin over the vein that appears either pale blue or red
Signs you have developed a PE include:
- Sudden shortness of breath
- Chest pain that gets worse when you breathe or cough
- Lightheadedness, dizziness, or fainting
- Rapid heartbeat and/or breathing
- Coughing up blood
If you develop signs of a PE, call 911 immediately, or go to your local ER.
When you come into Comprehensive Vascular Care for a consultation, your doctor will take a medical history, perform a physical exam, and likely do some imaging tests, such as an X-ray or a CT scan. With a firm DVT diagnosis in hand, he draws up a personalized treatment plan aimed at stopping the clot from getting bigger and/or breaking free. It may include:
- Blood-thinning drugs: make the blood harder to clot
- Thrombolytic medications: intravenous drugs that break up clots; particularly useful for people with upper extremity DVT (much less common)
- Compression stockings: prevent leg swelling and decrease risk of developing new clots
- Exercise: boosts your circulation so blood can’t form clots
The doctor may also place a filter in your vena cava, the large vein located in your abdomen, to prevent any blood clot from entering your lungs and causing a PE.
If you’ve developed varicose veins and want to prevent the chance of developing DVT, the doctor may recommend a minimally invasive procedure such as sclerotherapy, laser ablation, or a phlebectomy. For the former, he injects a saline solution into the swollen vein; the solution irritates the walls, causing them to swell and then collapse. Blood is then rerouted to a healthy vein nearby.
DVT is dangerous. If you’re displaying any of the symptoms of this condition, or if you have varicose veins and want to prevent them from progressing to a more serious stage, contact Comprehensive Vascular Care to set up a consultation. You can call us at either location, or book your appointment online.