Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) occurs when a blood clot (thrombus) forms in one or more of the deep veins in your body, usually in your legs. Deep vein thrombosis can cause leg pain or swelling, but may occur without any symptoms. DVT is a very feared complication of venous disease because it can lead to a pulmonary embolus, a clot in the lung that can be deadly.
There are several symptoms to DVT but the most common are the sudden onset of pain and swelling in your leg. This does not happen in your foot, but happens, most commonly in the back of your calf or your entire thigh. Usually, the painful part of your leg is also swollen. This comes on abruptly and generally does not go away even after a few days. It is very important to go to your regular doctor and get an ultrasound of your leg. If this is “normal” but the swelling or pain persists, then you should go see a vascular surgeon as more testing (such as CT scan or specialized ultrasound) may need to be done. This is quite important to do quickly as some treatments only work if they are done within a week of the development of symptoms.
If you are diagnosed with a DVT, you should be treated with blood thinners immediately. The role of blood thinners is not to actually “dissolve” the clot in your leg, but rather to prevent it from travelling to your lung and causing a Pulmonary Embolus. The blood thinners also work to prevent the clot from becoming more extensive. If this is your first blood clot, you should be treated for 6 weeks to 3 months with blood thinners depending on why the blood clot occurred. The risk factors for developing blood clots include long plane or car rides, immobility (after an operation or injury), obesity, being very sedentary, pregnancy, having had an orthopedic or gynecologic procedure, some genetic factors (hypercoagulable syndromes), dehydration, and cancer. It is important if there if there is not a clear reason for the blood clot, that a search for a hidden cause be done.
Dr. Kokinos and the staff at South Bay Vascular Center and Vein Institute are experts in the identification of and treatment of blood clots. If you or anyone you know suffers from the rapid onset of pain and or swelling following a medical procedure and or long trip (most common on long airplane flights) please contact your primary physician immediately or call us at 408-376-3626 to discuss your treatment options.