Among the various jobs of your blood, one is to balance the need to clot blood if you have a cut or injury, while keeping it from clotting too much, affecting the ability of blood to move through the veins. The process is controlled by a complex balance of thickening and thinning proteins in your blood. Sometimes, this becomes unbalanced. In the case of blood clots in the veins, the blood becomes too thick, and may clot in the deep, larger veins in the leg muscles that normally drain most of the blood out of the leg, causing a Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT). DVT symptoms include pain and swelling of the lower part of the leg. In some cases, the clot can break off moving to the lungs, causing a Pulmonary Embolus (PE), which can be fatal. Common causes of DVT include:
- major surgery on the hip, knee, abdomen or chest
- prolonged airline or car rides without getting up to walk
- birth control
- severe vein disease of the legs
- less commonly from genetic predisposition (a condition that runs in the family) or cancer
Blood Clots / DVT Treatment
Treatment can’t begin without an urgent evaluation first. If you have sudden pain and swelling of your leg associated with recent long travel, use of birth control, pregnancy, recent major surgery, injury, current or recent cancer treatment, or large varicose veins of the leg, it is very important to obtain a duplex ultrasound of the legs to confirm the diagnosis of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), and identify the location and size of the clot.
Treatment typically consists of:
- the removal of any birth control or certain hormones
- beginning a course of blood thinners for three to nine months, depending on multiple factors
- wearing prescription-strength graduated support hose to reduce the risk of chronic pain even after the clot has stabilized or resolved
- rarely, surgical intervention.
If you have difficulty breathing, have become significantly weak, feverish, or have chest discomfort, you will need an emergent evaluation to rule out a clot having traveled from the leg, or having formed within blood vessels in the lungs, causing a potentially life-threatening PE.
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