Deep vein thrombosis, or DVT, is a condition in which a blood clot (thrombus) forms in a vein deep inside a muscle in the body. Blood clots occur when blood fails to circulate adequately and the blood thickens and clumps together. DVT is most commonly found in the deep veins of the pelvis, thigh, or calf, but can also develop in other areas of the body.
DVT can partly or completely block blood flow, causing sudden swelling, pain or sensation of warmth. DVT is a serious condition because it can cause an embolism, when a clot breaks free and travels through the bloodstream to major organs. The loose clot is called an embolus. A condition known as pulmonary embolism (PE) occurs when an embolus moves to an artery in the lungs and blocks blood flow.

DVT affects an estimated 2 million Americans each year. Approximately 300,000 Americans die each year from DVT-related PE in the U.S. – that’s more than AIDS and breast cancer combined. DVT is most common in adults over age 60, but can occur at any age. It can occur when something changes or slows the flow of blood in the veins, disrupting the body’s blood clotting system. Often poor blood flow can occur if one, or a combination, of the following situations is present:

  • Recent surgery (most commonly hip, knee, leg calf, abdomen, or chest)
  • Fractures in the pelvis or legs
  • Immobility
  • Inherited blood clotting abnormalities
  • Dehydration

DVT is more likely to develop in someone who has certain conditions or disorders, such as:

  • Cancer
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Obesity
  • History of heart attack, stroke or congestive heart failure
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Chronic cardiorespiratory disease
  • Nephritic syndrome
  • Myeloproliferative disorders
  • Pregnant, nursing or taking birth control pills
  • History of DVT/pulmonary embolism or family history of DVT

Common signs and symptoms of DVT include changes in skin color (redness), pain or tenderness, swelling (edema), sensation of warmth, visible surface veins, however half of all DVT cases show no symptoms.

An embolism is DVT can partly or completely block blood flow, causing chronic pain and swelling. It may damage valves in blood vessels, making it difficult for you to get around. A blood clot can also break free and travel through your blood to major organs, such as your lungs or heart. There, it can cause damage and even death within hours.
In most cases, medicine can be taken to thin the blood and prevent future clots from forming or present clots from getting bigger. In rare cases where medicine or minimally invasive procedures do not work, surgery may be required.

Sources: Society for Vascular Surgery, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health

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