Deep Vein Thrombosis
Deep Vein Thrombosis is a condition where a person develops blood clots in veins deep within their lower leg or thigh. Anyone sitting in a car, at a desk or elsewhere for long periods of time without moving is at higher risk. And other factors you might not expect, like pregnancy, can also increase your risk for DVT.
DVT can cause serious complications if not treated. However, only about half of people with DVT have symptoms. The symptoms usually appear in only one leg. They may include a swollen area of the leg, pain or tenderness in the leg, increased warmth in the swollen or painful areas and red or discolored skin. You might only feel the leg pain when you’re standing or walking. It’s important to see a doctor right away if you have these symptoms.
Some people find out that they have DVT only after the clot has moved from the leg and traveled to the lung—a pulmonary embolism. Shortness of breath and chest pain when you take a deep breath are signs that you may have a pulmonary embolism.
Several types of medicine may be used to treat or prevent DVT. The most common are anticoagulants, also known as blood thinners, which decrease your blood’s ability to clot. Anticoagulant treatment for DVT usually lasts from 3 to 6 months.
If you’re at risk for developing a deep vein clot, you may be able to prevent one by:
- Exercising your lower leg muscles if you will be sitting still for long periods of time.
- Getting out of bed and moving around as soon as you are able to after a long period of being bedridden. The sooner you get active, the lower your chance of developing a clot.
- Taking the medicines prescribed by your doctor to prevent or treat blood clots.
Pulmonary embolism (PE)
Pulmonary embolism or PE, is a sudden blockage in a lung artery. The blockage usually is caused by a blood clot that travels to the lung from a vein in the leg.
A clot that forms in one part of the body and travels in the bloodstream to another part of the body is called an embolus.
PE is a serious condition that can:
- Damage part of your lung because of a lack of blood flow to your lung tissue. This damage may lead to pulmonary hypertension (increased pressure in the pulmonary arteries).
- Cause low oxygen levels in your blood.
- Damage other organs in your body because of a lack of oxygen.
If a blood clot is large, or if there are many clots, PE can cause death.
PE most often is a complication of a condition called deep vein thrombosis (DVT). In DVT, blood clots form in the deep veins of the body—most often in the legs. These clots can break free, travel through the bloodstream to the lungs, and block an artery.
Deep vein clots are not like clots in veins close to the skin's surface. Those clots remain in place and do not cause PE.
The exact number of people affected by DVT and PE isn't known. Estimates suggest these conditions affect 300,000 to 600,000 people in the United States each year.
If left untreated, about 30 percent of patients who have PE will die. Most of those who die do so within the first few hours of the event.
The good news is that a prompt diagnosis and proper treatment can save lives and help prevent the complications of PE.
*Information from National Institutes of Health (NIH)