What is Venous Thromboembolism?

Deep Vein Thrombosis and Pulmonary Embolism (DVT/PE) might be silent, but they’re serious and avoidable health concerns.

Understanding Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) arises when a blood clot forms within a deep vein. While they often develop in the lower leg, thigh, or pelvis, they can occur in the arm as well. The reason you should be informed about DVT is that it can affect anyone and lead to severe illness, disability, or even death. The silver lining is that DVT is preventable and treatable when detected early.

New Clinical Practice Guidelines for Venous Thromboembolism

Venous thromboembolism (VTE), a term referring to blood clots in the veins, is an underdiagnosed and serious, yet preventable medical condition that can cause disability and death.

The American Society of HematologyExternal (ASH) recognizes the need for a comprehensive set of guidelines on the treatment of VTE to help the medical community better manage this serious condition.  In partnership with the McMaster University GRADE CentreExternal, ASH brought together experts to address this challenge, including hematologists, other clinicians, guideline development specialists, and patient representatives. In November 2018, ASH announced the results of their collective efforts – the 2018 ASH Clinical Practice Guidelines on Venous ThromboembolismAccess the new guidelinesExternal.

Diving into DVT Complications

The gravest DVT complication arises when a fragment of the clot breaks free and journeys through the bloodstream to the lungs, causing a blockage known as pulmonary embolism (PE). With appropriate treatment, people can recover from PE if the clot is small, but it might leave some lung damage. In the case of a large clot, it can halt blood flow to the lungs and be fatal.

Additionally, one-third to one-half of DVT patients suffer long-term complications due to clot-induced damage to vein valves, resulting in a condition called post-thrombotic syndrome (PTS). Symptoms include swelling, pain, discoloration, and in severe cases, scaling or ulcers in the affected body part. In some instances, symptoms become debilitating.

For certain individuals, DVT and PE can transform into chronic conditions, with approximately 30% of those who’ve experienced DVT or PE at risk for a recurrence.

Identifying DVT Risk Factors

Though DVT can affect nearly anyone, several factors can elevate the risk of its occurrence, especially if multiple factors coincide:

  • Injury to a vein, often due to fractures, severe muscle injury, or major surgeries, particularly in the abdomen, pelvis, hips, or legs.
  • Slow blood flow, which can result from extended bed rest post-surgery, limited mobility such as leg immobilization with a cast, prolonged sitting, especially with crossed legs, or paralysis.
  • Elevated estrogen levels, often attributed to birth control pills, hormone replacement therapy, or pregnancy (up to three months after childbirth).
  • Certain chronic medical conditions like heart disease, lung disease, cancer and its treatment, and inflammatory bowel disease (such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis).
  • Other risk factors encompass a previous DVT or PE, family history of these conditions, increasing age, obesity, the presence of a central vein catheter, and inherited clotting disorders.

Preventing DVT: A Lifesaving Checklist

Consider the following tips for DVT prevention:

  • Resume movement as soon as possible after prolonged bed rest (e.g., following surgery or illness).
  • If you’re at risk, consult your healthcare provider about graduated compression stockings or anticoagulant medication.
  • During extended periods of sitting (e.g., on long flights), stand up and walk every one to two hours, perform leg exercises while seated, or wear loose-fitting clothing.
  • Maintain a healthy weight, stay active, and follow your doctor’s recommendations based on your individual risk factors.

Recognizing DVT/PE Symptoms: A Vital Step

Everyone should be aware of DVT/PE signs and symptoms, their personal risk, and the importance of discussing their risk with a healthcare provider. Immediate medical attention is crucial upon detecting any DVT/PE signs or symptoms.

Know the Signs. Know your Risk. Seek Care.

Everybody should know the signs and symptoms of DVT/PE, their risk for DVT/PE, to talk to their health care provider about their risk, and to seek care immediately if they have any sign or symptom of DVT/PE.

DVT Symptoms

Approximately half of DVT cases display no symptoms. Common DVT symptoms in the affected area include:

  • Swelling
  • Pain
  • Tenderness
  • Skin redness

If you experience any of these symptoms, seek medical attention promptly.

PE Symptoms

PE can manifest without DVT symptoms. PE signs and symptoms include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Abnormally fast or irregular heartbeat
  • Chest pain or discomfort, typically exacerbated by deep breaths or coughing
  • Coughing up blood
  • Very low blood pressure, lightheadedness, or fainting

If you notice any of these symptoms, seek immediate medical help.

Diagnosing DVT and PE

Diagnosing DVT or PE necessitates specialized tests conducted by a healthcare professional. Thus, it’s crucial to seek medical care if you experience any DVT or PE symptoms.

Treatment for DVT and PE

  • DVT: Medication is administered for DVT prevention and treatment. Graduated compression stockings may be recommended to prevent DVT, alleviate pain, and reduce swelling. Severe cases might require surgical clot removal.
  • PE: Immediate medical attention is imperative. Life-threatening PE cases can be treated with clot-dissolving thrombolytic medications. Anticoagulants may be prescribed to prevent further clot formation. Some individuals may need long-term medication to prevent future clots.

Did you know?

DVT does not cause heart attack or stroke. There are two main types of blood clots.
How a clot affects the body depends on the type and location of the clot:

A blood clot in a deep vein of the leg, pelvis, and sometimes arm, is called deep vein thrombosis (DVT). This type of blood clot does not cause heart attack or stroke.
A blood clot in an artery, usually in the heart or brain, is called arterial thrombosis. This type of blood clot can cause heart attack or stroke

Both types of clots can cause serious health problems, but the causes and steps you can take to protect yourself are different. To learn more about arterial thrombosis, visit CDC’s information about heart disease and stroke prevention.
Stay informed, stay vigilant, and prioritize your health.

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