DVT can be very dangerous and is considered a medical emergency. If the clot (also known as a thrombus) breaks loose and travels through the bloodstream, it can lodge in the lung. This blockage in the lung, called a pulmonary embolism, can make it difficult to breathe and may even cause death. Blood clots in the thigh are more likely to cause a pulmonary embolism than those in the calf.
Many factors can contribute to the formation of a DVT. The more risk factors a person has, the greater their risk of having a DVT. However, even people without these risk factors can form a DVT.
Some people with DVT in the leg have either no warning signs at all or very vague symptoms. If any of the following warning signs or symptoms are present, it is important to see a doctor for evaluation:
- Swelling in the leg.
- Pain in the calf or thigh.
- Warmth and redness of the leg.
If DVT is suspected, the doctor will immediately send the patient to a vascular laboratory or a hospital for testing, which may include a blood test, Doppler ultrasound, venogram, MRI, or angiogram.
If tests indicate a clot is present, the doctor will make a recommendation regarding treatment. Depending on the location of the clot, the patient may need hospitalization. Medical or surgical care will be managed by a team of physicians which may include a primary care physician, internist, vascular (blood vessel) surgeon, or hematologist (blood disease specialist).
Treatment may include:
- Medication. A blood-thinning medication is usually prescribed to help prevent additional clots from forming.
- Compression. Wearing fitted hosiery decreases pain and swelling.
- Surgery. A surgical procedure performed by a vascular specialist may be required.
- Shortness of breath.
- Chest pain.
- Coughing up blood.
- A feeling of impending doom.
For those who have risk factors for DVT, these strategies may reduce the likelihood of developing a blood clot:
- Take blood-thinning medication, if prescribed.
- Reduce risk factors that can be changed. For example, stop smoking and lose excess weight.
- During periods of prolonged immobility, such as on long trips:
- Exercise legs every 2 to 3 hours to get the blood flowing back to the heart. Walk up and down the aisle of a plane or train, rotate ankles while sitting, and take regular breaks on road trips.
- Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids; avoid alcohol and caffeine.
- Consider wearing compression socks.
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