Deep Vein Thrombosis, or DVT, is a medical condition that occurs when blood clots form in varicose veins deep beneath the surface of the skin. What are the risk factors for DVT? Does everyone with varicose veins develop DVT? What can we do to prevent blood clots from forming? Let’s dive in!
Why Is DVT So Dangerous?
DVT is dangerous because blood clots can cause serious and life-threatening issues when they break off from the inside of diseased veins and travel through the circulatory system. While stuck to the wall of a deep vein, blood clots will slow your blood flow and negatively impact your circulation, which can worsen the symptoms of vein disease. When they travel, they require immediate emergency care. Understanding blood clots is key to understanding DVT.
Poor circulation is an uncomfortable side effect, but the bigger picture is a bit more concerning: because your veins carry blood back to your heart and lungs to be re-oxygenated, blood clots in the veins can easily wind up in these critical organs if they detach from the vein wall. When blood clots break free from diseased veins, they will travel with the flow of blood back to the circulatory system’s center. If they find themselves in the lungs, a patient can experience a pulmonary embolism.
Pulmonary embolism is a serious, often life-threatening condition that requires emergency care. If blood clots become trapped in the arteries of the lungs, they can cause damage, shortness of breath, decreased oxygen in the body, and death. Remember, the lungs re-oxygenate your blood and keep your body functional. If a clot from DVT has obstructed your blood’s oxygen source, your circulatory system is unable to perform its most important function: moving your blood around.
The goal of your vein doctor in diagnosing Deep Vein Thrombosis is to treat your venous concerns before the blood clots have the chance to become embolisms. Luckily, DVT is a highly treatable condition, and while pulmonary embolism is a late-stage side effect of DVT, it is not the only outcome of a DVT diagnosis.
How Does DVT Develop?
DVT is most likely to occur in veins on the lower legs and pelvic region; these veins have a hard job of working against gravity to bring blood back to the heart from our lowest extremities. Because of this, these veins are more likely to develop venous insufficiencies like varicose veins. Varicose veins on the surface of the skin are easy to identify as they are often visibly bulging, twisted, and easy to see. Varicose veins can also occur deeper beneath the skin, surrounded by muscle and far enough away from the surface that they cannot be seen or monitored by the naked eye. It is within these deep veins that DVT can develop and endanger the health of someone suffering from vein disease.
Understanding The Risk Factors For DVT
Like with other venous insufficiencies, DVT has many common risk factors, some of which are affected by lifestyle choices and some that are out of our control. It’s important to remember that, like with varicose veins, we will never be able to fully prevent DVT. However, understanding risk helps us to prepare, monitor, and treat symptoms of vein disease and DVT.
Some risk factors include:
· Age: Deep Vein Thrombosis, like a surface vein blood clot, can occur in persons of any age. However, the likelihood of developing DVT does begin to increase in patients aged over 60 years old.
· Smoking: Nicotine use can cause platelets in your blood to become stickier, which makes it easier for clots to form.
· Obesity: Excess weight on the body puts excess pressure on the veins, leading to venous insufficiencies and vein diseases like varicose veins, the latter of which is often the host for DVT blood clots.
· Pregnancy/Postpartum: Pregnancy puts pressure on the veins, as they need to work double time to fuel a growing uterus. Postpartum varicose veins are very common.
· Stagnant lifestyles: Circulation is increased with regular exercise and movement. Without movement, poor circulation can lead to blood clots.
· Frequent flyers: If you often travel in long stretches and don’t take the time to move, flex your feet, walk, or stretch, your risk of developing blood clots increases.
· Surgeries, specifically joint replacements: Any injury to the vein, be it accidental or surgical, increases risk of DVT. Patients undergoing hip, knee, or other joint replacement surgeries are at a higher risk for DVT because these surgeries are invasive.
· Birth control: Estrogen birth control pills have a common side effect of blood clots.
· Varicose veins: Diseased veins are at a higher risk of trapping blood clots. With varicose veins, the walls are weakened and twisted, circulation is decreased, and blood is more likely to clot.
· Genetics: If you or a family member has a medical history of blood clots, vein disease, or DVT, your risk increases.
· Inflammatory bowel diseases: Crohns and other bowel diseases involving inflammation or additional pressure on the lower extremities increase risk of blood clots.
What Your Vein Doctor Is Looking For
When diagnosing DVT, there are four primary symptoms your vein doctor will check for. These typically present in only one leg at a time.
· Leg swelling
· Unexplained leg pain
· Skin warm to the touch
· Hard veins under the skin
DVTs can sometimes be painful, uncomfortable, itchy, or can be symptomless, so your vein doctor will ask what sensations you are experiencing and perform an ultrasound to diagnose your condition. If you notice you have visible swelling, new discoloration, or warm skin in only one of your legs, you should book an appointment with your vein doctor right away, as these could be signs of an acute DVT.
DVTs are serious, and if left untreated they put you at risk of pulmonary embolism, which can be fatal. Our team at Metro Vein Centers can help to rule out a serious complication and identify if your symptoms are a result of DVT or more common forms of vein disease such as varicose veins.
How We Treat Deep Vein Thrombosis
Following your consultation and ultrasound evaluation, our board-certified vein specialists will identify whether you are experiencing Deep Vein Thrombosis or another form of vein disease. Due to the serious and life-threatening possibility that DVT can lead to pulmonary embolism, if you are diagnosed with a DVT your vein doctor will likely prescribe blood thinners for 3 months and follow-up with you weekly. We highly recommend consulting a vein specialist near you if you suspect you are experiencing symptoms of vein disease and/or Deep Vein Thrombosis.
To Do & Not To Do
When dealing with a DVT from home following your diagnosis, your vein doctor may recommend some of the following:
· Take your blood thinners, if prescribed by your doctor
· Wear your compression stockings to relieve swelling or pain
· Stretch, move, and participate in light exercise.
· Invest in healthier lifestyle choices. Eating a well-rounded diet, quitting smoking, and maintaining a healthy weight will all decrease your risk of developing DVT and vein disease in the future.
· Elevate the affected leg to improve circulation.
· Schedule a follow-up visit with your vein doctor.
· Massage the affected leg. This can dislodge blood clots adhered to the vein wall, increasing risk of the blood clot traveling to the lungs and becoming a pulmonary embolism.
· Ignore your symptoms. Pulmonary embolism is an extremely dangerous condition, and DVT must be taken seriously in order to avoid blood clots migrating.
At Metro Vein Centers, we treat all forms of vein disease - from cosmetic spider veins to more serious deep vein thrombosis. If you are concerned about your symptoms or are curious about the health of your veins, our board-certified vein doctors are here to help! We accept over 200 insurance plans, including Medicaid and Medicare. We’ll work with you to make sure your treatments are covered. Our goal is to deliver the highest quality, customized care to all of our patients. We treat your unique symptoms with state-of-the-art technology and offer minimally invasive procedures to ensure your health and comfort come first.
We look forward to seeing you in one of our New York, New Jersey, or Michigan vein clinics!
Trusted insight from the nationally accredited, board-certified vein doctors at Metro Vein Centers.