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Deep vein thrombosis care

When a blood clot forms deep in your veins, it’s called deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Knowing the symptoms and risk factors can help you get the treatment you need as soon as possible.

What is deep vein thrombosis?

Deep vein thrombosis (or DVT) occurs when a blood clot forms in the deep veins of your body. While DVT is most common in the legs, it can occur anywhere in the body, including your arm, abdomen or around your brain.

A blood clot typically forms in one of three ways:

  • When the flow of blood in your vein slows 
  • When damage occurs to your veins
  • If your blood becomes more likely to clot

When blood clots form to repair damage to a blood vessel and stop bleeding, they can be life-saving. However, blood clots can also form inside an artery or vein inappropriately, which can disrupt blood flow. This can happen when your muscles aren’t moving in a way that promotes healthy blood flow or when a disease causes blood to clot abnormally.

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Deep vein thrombosis symptoms

Often times, deep vein thrombosis occurs with no noticeable symptoms. However, if you notice any symptoms of DVT, contact your doctor immediately as DVT can develop into a life-threatening condition called pulmonary embolism (PE). Deep vein thrombosis symptoms include:

  • A blue, purple or red tint to skin, which may feel warm to the touch
  • Pain, tenderness or cramping in your leg, often near the calf muscle
  • Swelling in one or both legs

Pulmonary embolism can be prevented with swift diagnosis and treatment. Symptoms of pulmonary embolism include:

  • Chest pain or discomfort that worsens when you cough or breath deeply
  • Coughing up blood
  • Fainting
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Sudden shortness of breath
  • Unexplained cough

Deep vein thrombosis risk factors

There are certain behaviors, genetics and risk factors that can increase your chances of developing blood clots, which can lead to DVT. These include:

  • Increased estrogens: Your estrogen levels can increase if you are taking hormonal birth control (pills, patches and rings), are pregnant or from estrogen and progestin hormone therapy.
  • Physical inactivity: Living a sedentary lifestyle is a major risk factor for DVT, including being hospitalized, paralyzed and sitting for long periods of time. Just 30 minutes of activity, five days a week can reduce your risk.
  • Age: While DVT can occur at any age, the risk of developing deep vein thrombosis and blood clots increases after age 60.
  • Other risk factors: Other risk factors that can increase the risk of developing DVT include a history of blood clots (family and personal), obesity and varicose veins.

Diagnosing deep vein thrombosis

Our experienced team of vascular specialists is experienced in diagnosing and treating DVT, which can sometimes develop into pulmonary embolism (PE). With swift diagnosis and treatment of DVT and blood clots, we can help prevent PE from developing.

Tests to diagnose deep vein thrombosis may include:

  • Blood tests – Bloodwork may be taken to check for elevated blood levels of a substance called D dimer, which may indicate DVT.
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan – CT scans use a combination of X-rays taken from different angles to produce detailed pictures of the inside your body. This can help your doctor to see if and where there are blood clots in your veins.
  • Doppler ultrasound (duplex) – This painless and noninvasive test uses soundwaves to generate pictures of the blood vessels.
  • Ultrasound – An ultrasound uses high-frequency soundwaves to create images of the inside of your body, including your veins. These will allow your doctor to check for blood clots and monitor the flow of your blood.
  • Venography – A venography is a test that uses special dyes to see inside your veins when an X-ray is performed. This test will help provide the most accurate diagnosis and treatment plan to treat DVT and blood clots.

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Deep vein thrombosis treatment

Because DVT is linked to pulmonary embolism, it’s critical to seek treatment. If you have a blood clot that medication does not eliminate, there are surgical procedures that can help.

Depending on your situation, one or more of the following treatments may be recommended:

Lifestyle changes

To treat venous diseases, your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes including exercise, diet changes and quitting smoking.

Medications are commonly used in treating DVT. Anticoagulants (blood thinners) help increase the time it takes for blood to clot. While they do not dissolve a clot, they allow the body to absorb current clots before they become worse.
Thombolytics (clot busters)

If medication doesn’t work, your doctor may prescribe thrombolytics, which actively break up blood clots. They are either given through an IV or through a catheter that is placed directly into the clot. This treatment is used for severe cases of DVT and PE.
Inferior vena cava (IVF) filter

If you’re unable to take blood thinners, an IVC filter can be inserted into a large vein in your abdomen. Fillers trap clots that break loose from traveling to your lungs and can help prevent PE.

Deep vein thrombosis care at Geisinger

Our vascular specialists are dedicated to providing personalized care and helping you feel your best. With the area’s largest vascular medicine program, our specialists are available 24/7. We offer:

  • Advanced care – Primary care doctors (your main doctor) often send individuals to us because of our advanced vascular labs. Here, we can perform many non-invasive diagnostic tests, helping us refine your diagnosis and determine the best treatment.
  • Minimally invasive surgery – We use minimally invasive techniques whenever possible. This means smaller surgical incisions, shorter recovery and a faster return to your daily activities.
  • High-tech endovascular suites – Our state-of-the-art operating suites include the imaging capabilities of a catheterization lab. This allows our surgeons to perform procedures that require both vascular surgery and image-guided techniques simultaneously. So not only can you have multiple procedures at once, you’ll only have to undergo anesthesia and recover once.
  • Comprehensive vascular care – Our vascular specialists are dedicated to offering innovative treatment options and personalized care. We collaborate with specialists across our health system, including heart, cardiothoracic and nephrology experts, to provide you with the best possible care.
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