What is a deep vein thrombosis?
The clot causes swelling of the vein or thrombophlebitis and can cause pain, aching or discomfort. This is NOT the same as a superficial clot in the leg, which is felt as a painful, often hard lump in the veins you can see on your leg. Although these cause more discomfort than a DVT, they do not cause the same complications as a DVT.
What causes deep vein thrombosis?
Clotting is part of the body’s natural healing process to plug a gap in a damaged blood vessel and prevent bleeding, but it cannot happen if blood is flowing normally. Veins carry blood from the tissues and organs of your body back to the heart to be pumped to the lungs for more oxygen. This means that blood from the lower parts of your body must travel uphill when you are standing or sitting. It is pumped from the legs by the leg muscles squeezing on the veins when the muscles are used. One-way valves in the veins prevent backward flow. If the blood flow is slow and blood pools, a blood clot can form. This can happen when you’re immobile for long periods, such as being wheelchair-bound, sitting in an office chair, plane or a car for several hours without moving your legs. Reduced cabin pressure when flying also causes fluid to move out of the blood into the surrounding tissues (oedema), which is why you may get swollen ankles, but it also ‘thickens’ the blood adding to the risk of a clot forming.
What are the symptoms?
Often there are no symptoms; those that do occur include:
A DVT is not usually a problem on its own. However, if the clot breaks free and travels round in the blood it can become lodged in the lungs, heart or brain which can be life threatening, particularly if it happens in the lung. A blood clot in the lung is called a ‘pulmonary embolism’ and can happen several days after the DVT has formed.
Prevention and treatment
1. Seek medical advice
If you have multiple risk factors (as above), including planning a long journey, visit your medical practitioner for advice. You may be offered:
2. How to prevent a DVT
3. Confirmation of a clot
If you suspect you have a DVT, seek medical attention immediately. A doctor can assess the likelihood of you having a DVT and will usually do tests such as:
5. Be vigilant for further complications
There is a chance that valves in the vein where a DVT has formed may be damaged, causing varicose veins, leg ulcers or persistent leg swelling.
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