Serious but preventable, deep vein thrombosis (DVT) occurs when a blood clot, or a clump of blood that has solidified, forms deep inside your body. Most of the time, DVT develops in the thigh or lower leg, but some patients experience it in their arms or other parts of their body.
Many people experience zero symptoms when they have DVT, so this condition often goes undiagnosed. If left untreated, blood clots may grow, which eventually can be fatal.
DVT sounds scary, but know that under the care of a vascular specialist, recovery is possible and likely. Our vascular experts at North Atlanta Vascular Clinic & Vein Center explain the causes of deep vein thrombosis, how to tell if you have one, and what treatment options are available to you.
Causes of deep vein thrombosis
DVT is caused by a blood clot, which may occur from many different factors. Blood clotting may occur in any of these scenarios.
You’ve been injured. Injuries can damage the walls of your blood vessels, causing them to narrow or block the blood flow.
You’ve had surgery. Surgery may damage your blood vessels, and blood clotting is a risk factor of any major or invasive surgery.
You’re mostly sedentary. If you sit a lot, blood may collect in your legs and blood flow may slow down, which can increase your risk for blood clots.
You take certain medications. Some drugs, including high-estrogen birth control, may raise your risk of developing a blood clot.
You aren’t at a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese may cause a DVT because of significantly increased pressure on your blood vessels.
You’re aging. Old age is a risk factor for DVT simply because our bodies function less efficiently as we age, including your blood vessels.
You smoke. Smoking affects your circulation which can increase your risk of blood clotting.
How to tell if you have deep vein thrombosis
Only about half of people with DVT experience symptoms, but those that do often experience the following.
Lower extremity DVT:
- Swelling in the affected leg
- Swelling in the ankle and foot
- Warm or tender skin on the leg, ankle, or foot
- Discoloration (red or blue-tinted skin) on the affected leg
- Cramping in the affected leg
- A sharp, shooting pain in your foot or ankle
Upper extremity DVT:
- Neck and shoulder pain
- Swelling on the affected arm and hand
- Discoloration on the affected arm
- Weakness in your hand or fingers
- Shooting pain that travels from your upper arm to forearm
Prevention and treatment for deep vein thrombosis
Sometimes lifestyle changes can help prevent DVT. For example, a vein specialist might recommend that you lose weight and maintain a healthy weight, start exercising, stop smoking, or stop taking certain medications. Compression stockings can also help by preventing swelling.
To treat a DVT, you may need medication. DVT medications focus on keeping the blood clot from growing and preventing any further related complications. Your doctor may prescribe blood thinners, which make it difficult for your blood to clot, or thrombolytic drugs, which actually break up blood clots.
In severe cases a DVT may require surgery, which involves locating and removing the blood clot.
If you suspect you have a DVT, seek medical help immediately, as it can lead to fatal complications if left untreated. Call one of our four Georgia locations today or request an appointment online.