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Written by Sandy Stoutenburg

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is the formation of a blood clot (thrombus) deep within a vein.  These blood clots occur often in the calf or thigh and can partially or completely block the flow of blood in the affected area.

Who is most at risk for developing DVT?

Someone who has received an injury to a vein which includes: a blow to the leg, surgery, or radiation treatments.  These injuries can cause a narrowing or blockage of a vein.

Pre-Menopausal and Menopausal Women

If your doctor has prescribed the birth-control patch, you should know that safety alerts have been issued in the US regarding this patch increasing your risk of blood clots. Research has found that women on the patch developed clots more than twice as often as women on the pill. The American Patch which is different than the Canadian version delivers 60% more estrogen than oral contraceptives over a three-week period.

Other potential causes include severe infection, liver disease and some forms of cancer. Individuals with poor circulation caused by a recent heart attack or stroke, heart disease, varicose veins, as well as smoking and pregnancy can all be attributed to high risk for DVT.

Symptoms of Deep Vein Thrombosis

Common symptoms of DVT include: tenderness, redness, swelling, joint pain, fever, rapid heartbeat, and sometimes, a sudden and unexplained cough.

How Is Deep Vein Thrombosis Diagnosed?

When your physician suspects that you may have a blood clot, they will perform a physical exam that includes a review of your medical history. An indicator of DVT is a sharp pain in your leg when you flex your foot upward. Other tests can include an ultrasound and an x-ray of the veins in your leg. A dye is injected into a vein in your foot which will allow your physician to observe blood flow in the area.

If you are at higher-risk of developing DVT, your physician may order additional tests to measure your blood clotting ability.

Treatment … What’s Next?

Self-help techniques that you can do at home include:

Avoid prolonged bed rest. If bed rest is unavoidable such as in pregnancy or other medical conditions that require you to remain inactive, remember to move your legs on a regular basis even if it’s just swinging them over the side of your bed a few times an hour or moving your knees up and down several times.

If you smoke, quit! Smoking is especially dangerous for people at risk for DVT. If you have severe varicose veins, the use of support stockings can help decrease the chance that a blood clot will form.

Regular exercise is important to reduce your risk of blood clots forming in your legs. Ask your physician what type of exercise is best for you.

Medical Treatment

If deep vein thrombosis is diagnosed, the first course of treatment is usually hospitalization and bed rest. Treatments designed to relieve symptoms include:

Moist heat can relieve pain symptoms. Drugs are sometimes used to prevent the clot from traveling to other areas of the body such as thrombolytics which dissolve blood clots. Whatever treatment your physician prescribes, it’s absolutely imperative that you follow the dosing schedule exactly as prescribed. In a lot of cases, blood clots will dissolve on their own.

When treating DVT, surgery sometimes becomes necessary. Before surgery you may be given drugs called anti-coagulants. After surgery, you may awaken to find your legs wrapped with special support stockings to prevent blood clots from forming during inactivity while you are recuperating in bed.

Preventing Recurrent DVT

You can help prevent a recurrence of DVT, once you have been treated successfully, by practicing a few simple steps such as:

  • avoiding knee socks or other hosiery that may inhibit the flow of blood in your legs (especially for foot pain deep vein thrombosis)
  • wearing support stockings designed for varicose veins
  • not crossing your legs or ankles when sitting or lying
  • raising the foot of your bed to keep your legs elevated during the night
  • using an ottoman or foot rest during the day to help keep your feet higher than your hips when sitting, and
  • when resting be sure that you keep moving your legs and flexing your ankles and toes

The good news about deep vein thrombosis is that with early diagnosis and proper medical attention, most blood clots resolve without any complications. DVT that is left untreated can result in severe complications including death. Be sure to call your physician immediately if you develop any of the following during treatment for DVT:

Chest Pain
Coughing up Blood
Continued pain or swelling in the affected area, or
If you experience any new symptoms

The information in this article is for educational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice.