What is DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis)?
DVT stands for deep vein thrombosis which is the medical name given to a clot forming within a deep vein of the body- usually your leg but this can also occur in your groin or pelvis. Much less commonly it can occur in your arm. Because this blocks the blood flowing away from your heart via the vein this can cause acute pain, swelling or warmth in the affected area
What causes DVT?
The risks of getting DVT become higher because of
- Long periods of sitting such as during a long flight or car ride
- Having to remain immobile such as bed rest due to injury or illness
- Recent surgery especially if it’s to the hip, leg or knee but also abdominal, heart or gynaecological surgery
- A recent accident involving the lower body
- Heart failure or a heart attack
- Use of oestrogen therapy or birth control tablets
- Pregnancy or recent childbirth
- Climbing in high altitudes over 14,000 feet
- Advanced age
- Genetic conditions affecting the clotting of blood
- Medic al conditions that affect the veins
Unfortunately if someone has a DVT there is a 33% chance that this will happen again with the next ten years.
It is not uncommon for compression (or DVT) socks to be worn by the patient during certain surgeries and, of course, for long flights compression socks are a good idea particularly if you are at higher risk. Quantas have even developed a 4 minute video on in flight exercises to avoid DVT. You can see this here
Deep vein thrombosis symptoms
DVT’s occur in about 1.6 per 1,000 inhabitants annually. 40% occur in veins in the calf; 20% in the groin; 20% in the thigh; 16% at the back of the knee and 4% in the pelvis.
It is not always easy to recognise you have a DVT as the symptoms can come on gradually, but if you are at risk or likely to be in a situation that raises risk you should look out for early warning signs such as:
- Pain or tenderness in one of your legs (usually in the calf)
- Swelling in the same place
- Warm skin in the area of the clot
- Redness usually at the back of your leg below the knee
- Leg cramps- especially at night - that begin in the calf
- Leg pain that increases as you bend your foot
- Skin discolouration which is white or bluish
Unfortunately when the clot breaks loose (or embolises) from its initial location it can travel through the blood stream and cause a blockage in the pulmonary artery of the lung (hence pulmonary embolism) Depending on the degree of blockage this can cause severe breathing difficulties or even death.
What to do?
It is important to act promptly
- If you suspect you have a blood clot call the doctor immediately
- If you have leg pain or swelling which will not resolves through elevation or ice you should immediately go to accident and emergency
- If you are with someone who you know has a current DVT, or has had one within the previous 10 years or is at risk and they have chest pain, shortness of breath, or have fainted you must immediately call an ambulance
DVT diagnosis and treatment
A blood test cannot indicate whether or not a patient has DVT so this is dependent upon imaging tests using ultrasound or a CT scan.
Treatment varies from patient to patient, the site of the clot and its severity. However, this will usually involve anti-coagulants (blood thinning medication). These are firstly given as an injection and then as tablets over varying duration from a few days to several months. The effectiveness of this treatment is measured via blood tests.
If reading this blog post has raised any concerns please do get in touch.
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