What is DVT?
Deep vein thrombophlebitis is a blood clot that has gotten lodged in a deep vein that has caused inflammation in the legs. It isn’t commonplace to have a deep vein thrombosis anywhere else but the legs, but on rare occasions they can occur in the neck, and arms of an individual. The clot can be located anywhere really, deep within a muscle of the leg or nearer to the surface. In any event the clot can cause severe health problems and also may be life threatening. When the clot breaks loose inside the vein and starts moving within circulation it is no longer considered a thrombus, but is now called an embolism. If the embolism gets lodged into a vessel in the lungs, it is called a pulmonary embolism, which is a life and death emergency.
Deep vein thrombophlebitis is primarily caused by long periods of inactivity. Someone who sits at a computer all day with his/her legs down runs the risk of DVT. Many times, prior to going to surgery, the patient is required to put on elastic hose; some hospitals use a brand called TED hose, and other hospitals use a brand called Jobst hose, both of which are designed to apply gentle pressure to the legs to stimulate circulation and prevent blood clots from moving if they were to occur.
What are the symptoms of DVT?
The symptoms of DVT include warmth or fever in the affected area. There may be pain and tenderness along with swelling and redness in the area of the inflammation. It can be very uncomfortable for the one who has this problem. The pain can be so severe it may be very difficult to walk or to even stand up on your legs. You may also have a generalized fever of 100 degrees or higher. It is also important to know that not all patients with DVT have any symptoms at all. You usually don’t know you have DVT unless you have symptoms.
My former sister-in-law had no symptoms of DVT. She never knew she had a problem until one day she was struck with a sudden bout of coughing and difficulty in breathing. Without ever knowing she had deep vein thrombosis, she was a walking time bomb that went off without warning. She died the same day the embolus hit her lung. She worked in an office, sitting for long periods with her legs down. She was also a smoker.
Blood clots can be caused by anything that impedes the flow of blood in circulation. You may be at risk of having a blood clot form if any of these factors fit you: if you are inactive for a long time in a sitting position; if you have recently had surgery; if you have had a heart attack; if you have recently had a fractured leg; if you have certain types of cancer that thicken the blood; if you have had a stroke with paralysis; if you are pregnant; if you have just given birth; if you have a clotting disorder; if you are obese; and if you smoke.
If you have red swollen legs with tenderness, especially if any of the above conditions fits you, then please see your physician right away to be evaluated. I knew a young lady who gave birth to her second child. She didn’t wake up in a timely manner after the sedations wore off. It was then that we realized that something was wrong. Diagnostic scans had shown she had thrown an embolism after delivery. She passed away shortly after that and she never even saw her baby.
How is DVT diagnosed?
To diagnose or rule out the presence of DVT you doctor will ask questions to get a history of your previous health conditions, as well as do a physical exam. He/she may ask you to have an ultrasound, or CT or MRI scan to visualize the tissue, and see if a clot is present in your veins. Your doctor may also order a blood test, because people who have a clot present usually have a natural clot-dissolving substance in the blood, called D dimer. It is the body’s way of trying to get rid of the obstruction. This blood test is useful in diagnosing a clot.
Sometimes circulation can become so bad with people who have varicose veins that the blood pools in the legs causing the possibility of clots to form. If you are bothered about varicose veins, you may want to have them removed. The procedure is much easier now, and in most cases can be done in a doctor’s office or as an outpatient in the hospital. It is good, whether you have had surgery for varicose veins or not to wear a support hose to give gentle pressure to the legs to improve circulation to the legs and prevent the movement of a clot if you have one.
If you have DVT your doctor may recommend that you apply heat to the area and take a drug that thins the blood. You might be treated in the hospital with heparin, but at home you would most likely take a drug called Coumadin to prevent new clots from forming.
Can you prevent DVT?
If you smoke, you need to quit. Smoking increases your risks of developing blood clots. If you take birth control, you definitely need to quit smoking. My girlfriend’s sister died from using tobacco and oral birth control medication because she developed a pulmonary embolism.
If you have a job that requires you to sit for long periods with your legs down, get up and take a walk. Stretch your legs at intervals, and pump your ankles to move your feet up and down. This exercises the calf of your leg. Do ankle pumps every 10 to 15 minutes while sitting; this will help improve circulation to your legs.
Source: Mayo Clinic information page