Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a condition that occurs when a blood clot forms in one of the body’s deeper veins. Usually occurring in the legs or arms, DVT can block blood flow and cause damage to the veins. Deep vein thrombosis can become life-threatening if a blood clot breaks free from its position in the vein and travels to the lungs, a complication known as a pulmonary embolism.

Causes of Deep Vein Thrombosis

DVT is caused by a blood clot, which can be triggered by a number of situations. For example, blood clots can occur when:

  • A blood vessel wall is damaged from an injury or surgery
  • Certain medications are taken
  • Someone sits for long periods of time without activity

There are several factors that place a person at a higher risk of developing DVT, including:

  • Genetics – Inheriting a disorder that makes blood clot more easily increases the risk of developing DVT.
  • Pregnancy – The increased pressure on veins caused by pregnancy heightens the risk of DVT for up to six weeks after delivery.
  • Smoking – Smoking impacts both circulation and blood clotting, making those who smoke more likely to develop DVT.
  • Prolonged periods of inactivity – Things like paralysis or bed rest lead to poor blood circulation, increasing the risk of DVT.

Symptoms of Deep Vein Thrombosis

Deep vein thrombosis can occur without presenting any symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they usually consist of swelling and pain in the affected area.

DVT in the leg may cause:

  • A sudden or progressive swelling of one leg
  • Warmness in the area of the leg that is swollen or painful
  • The veins near the skin’s surface may be larger than normal
  • Reddish or bluish skin
  • Leg, ankle and foot pain
  • Leg cramping
  • Leg tenderness

DVT in the arm (also known as upper extremity DVT) may cause:

  • A sudden or progressive swelling of one arm or hand
  • Warmness in the area of the affected arm
  • Shoulder or neck pain
  • Weakness in the hand
  • Pain that travels from the arm to the forearm
  • Reddish or bluish skin

Diagnosing Deep Vein Thrombosis

A healthcare provider can diagnose deep vein thrombosis with a physical exam, medical history and tests that can include:

  • A duplex venous ultrasound, which uses sound waves to shows images of arm or leg veins to determine the presence of blood clots
  • A venography, which uses X-rays and contrast dye to shows images of the veins deep in the body
  • Magnetic resonance venography (MRV), which uses a magnetic field and radio waves to show images of the blood vessels in the body
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan, which is a type of X-ray that shows images of bodily structures and is used to identify DVT in the lungs or pelvic region

Sometimes, people will only be diagnosed with DVT during emergency treatment for a pulmonary embolism, a life-threatening condition.

Treating Deep Vein Thrombosis

When it comes to treating deep vein thrombosis, the vascular experts at Tampa General Hospital’s Heart & Vascular Institute aim to keep the existing clot from getting bigger, as well as preventing it from turning into a pulmonary embolism.

Once the clot has been controlled, the goal of treatment is to prevent new clots from developing. These goals are achieved through the use of:

  • Blood thinners
  • Clot dissolvers
  • Filters
  • Compression stockings