To understand the seriousness of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a condition where a clot forms in a deep vein, you first have to know something about veins in general, and venous insufficiency in particular.
At Comprehensive Vascular Care, with locations in Novi and Southfield, Michigan, our expert team of board-certified vascular surgeons and vein specialists provides comprehensive vascular care for our adult patients. We also have state-of-the-art imaging equipment such as vascular ultrasound to ensure you have the most successful outcome, regardless of your problem. Because we want you to be an active participant in your treatment, we’ve put together this guide on the warning signs of deep vein thrombosis. Here’s what you need to know.
The role of veins in circulation
While your arteries carry oxygenated blood from your heart to your body’s tissues, veins return deoxygenated blood from the tissues back to the heart. To accomplish this effectively against the pull of gravity, the veins contain a series of one-way valves to ensure blood flows in only one direction. If the vein walls become weak, or if a valve becomes damaged, blood can flow backward along its path and pool around the weakened or damaged area.
When the blood pools, the vein becomes engorged, showing up as red, blue, or purple ropy bulges on your skin — varicose veins. While these veins can occur anywhere on the body, they most often occur on the legs.
If not treated, the condition becomes chronic, and it leads to what is known as chronic venous insufficiency (CVI), a situation that affects about 40% of US adults. While it can be primarily an eyesore, CVI may lead to leg pain, swelling, or skin ulcers that won’t heal. It also puts you at risk for deep vein thrombosis.
The risks and symptoms of deep vein thrombosis
Not everyone with CVI goes on to develop DVT, but there are certain risk factors that increase your chances. These include:
- Genetics: some people inherit a disorder that makes their blood clot more easily
- Prolonged bed rest, or sitting for long periods of time, as when driving or flying: when still, your calf muscles don’t contract to help blood circulate
- Vein injury or surgery
- Pregnancy and being overweight or obese: increase pressure in veins of pelvis and legs; women with a genetic risk are especially vulnerable
- Birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy: both increase blood’s ability to clot
- Smoking: affects blood clotting and circulation, increasing risk of DVT
If you develop DVT once, you’re 33% more likely to develop a second such clot within 10 years.
Not everyone with a deep vein clot shows symptoms, but for those that do, they appear in the affected leg when the clot obstructs blood flow and causes inflammation. Warning signs include:
- Gradual onset of pain
- Worsening leg pain when you bend the foot
- Leg cramps, especially at night, mostly starting in the calf
- Bluish or whitish skin discoloration
- Skin that’s warm to the touch
DVT is particularly serious because the clot can break free and travel to the lungs, causing a life-threatening pulmonary embolism (PE). If you develop the following symptoms, call 911 or get to the nearest emergency room:
- Sudden shortness of breath
- Chest pain that becomes worse when you take a deep breath or cough
- Feeling lightheaded, dizzy, or fainting
- A rapid pulse
- Coughing up blood
Diagnosis and treatment
In addition to a complete medical history and review of your symptoms, your Comprehensive Vascular Care doctor will most likely order a number of diagnostic imaging tests, such as a vascular ultrasound, venography, CT scan, or MRI, as well as blood work.
If he confirms that you do have DVT, he’ll draw up a treatment plan that will most likely include:
- Blood thinners, like heparin and warfarin
- Clot-busting drugs injected into the clot
- Compression stockings
The doctor may also choose to place a filter in your vena cava, the large vein in your abdomen, to prevent the clot from reaching your lungs should it break off.
Are you at high risk of developing DVT, or have you noticed any of the warning signs? Contact Comprehensive Vascular Care today by calling either of our locations, or by scheduling your consultation online.