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Deep Vein Thrombosis

Deep Vein Thrombosis

Everything you need to know about living with deep vein thrombosis (DVT)

Introduction

Introduction

You may be wondering, what is deep vein thrombosis? In this guide, we explore what causes deep vein thrombosis, what the symptoms of deep vein thrombosis are, and what treatments for deep vein thrombosis are available.

Any medical information provided here is for informational purposes and does not replace medical advice given to you by a healthcare professional. If you are concerned that you may have any of the deep vein thrombosis symptoms discussed below, please see your GP.

What is deep vein thrombosis?

Deep vein thrombosis is a condition caused by a clot of blood forming within a ‘deep’ set vein in the body, which usually occurs in the leg. Deep vein thrombosis causes reduced blood flow around the body and is potentially fatal if not treated quickly enough.

Deep vein thrombosis is common in the UK, with around 1 in 1000 people developing it each year. Having deep vein thrombosis can lead to a pulmonary embolism, a serious health condition, and can increase a person’s risk of having a stroke or heart attack.

Read more information about deep vein thrombosis.

What causes deep vein thrombosis?

Anybody can develop deep vein thrombosis, often out of the blue, and it is not really understood why this is the case. However, there are several factors that put a person at higher risk of developing the condition, and one or a combination of these may be what causes deep vein thrombosis.

Being immobile for a while

You’re at higher risk of developing DVT if you are unable to move around properly for any length of time e.g. if you have a disability or health condition that means your activity levels are restricted, or if you are travelling and have limited ability to walk and move around. This is because blood may gather in the legs and the flow of blood may slow down, which increases the chance of a blood clot forming.

Having an operation or spending time in hospital

Similar to the above, being laid in a hospital bed, recovering from an illness or surgery, may put you at increased risk of developing deep vein thrombosis. Most hospitals now provide compression stockings to help with this risk.

Damage to blood vessels

This can occur due to injury, having surgery, living with other health conditions such as vasculitis and varicose veins, or taking medications. Damage to the interior of the blood vessels causes the lining to narrow or create blockages, which may lead to the formation of a blood clot.

Other conditions

People who have conditions such as cancer, heart disease, hepatitis, rheumatoid arthritis or thrombophilia are more at risk of developing deep vein thrombosis, because their blood may clot more easily.

Pregnancy

Women are more at risk of developing deep vein thrombosis during pregnancy, although it is still a rare occurrence for a pregnant woman to have the condition. The risk is increased due to pregnancy causing the blood to clot more easily, with the baby and uterus putting more pressure on blood flow and the lower part of the body.

Contraceptive pills

These contain oestrogen and this may increase the risk of blood clots.

HRT

As above, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is taken as a medication to help menopause and, as such, contains oestrogen which may increase the risk of blood clots developing.

Being obese or overweight

This may put a person at an increased risk of developing deep vein thrombosis because they may not have an active lifestyle, meaning their weight causes more pressure on their veins and blood flow.

Being a smoker

Smoking causes damage to blood vessels and can make blood clot more easily.

Did you know
Deep vein thrombosis is a condition causing a blood clot to form within the veins that are positioned deep in the body, e.g. in the leg or pelvis.

Symptoms of deep vein thrombosis

Sometimes, there are no symptoms of deep vein thrombosis and some people are unaware that they have it. DVT symptoms do occur for many people, but are sometimes thought to be minor issues, such as the result of over-exercising or injury from exercise. It’s really important to get possible DVT symptoms checked out because, if left untreated, deep vein thrombosis can lead to a pulmonary embolism. This is a serious condition, where part of a blood clot travels to the lungs, causing blockage.

Symptoms of deep vein thrombosis

Deep vein thrombosis sometimes causes the leg to become:

• Swollen

• Painful

• Achy

• Warm/hot to the touch

• Red

These symptoms may occur gradually or suddenly. If you have any pain, swelling or redness in the legs, you should visit your GP. Pulmonary embolism causes symptoms of breathlessness and chest pain, and if you have these symptoms you should dial 999 or go to A and E.

Read more about deep vein thrombosis symptoms.

Diagnosis of deep vein thrombosis

If you present to your GP with deep vein thrombosis symptoms, they may refer you for a special D-dimer blood test which tests for fragments of blood clots, or an ultrasound scan. If your diagnosis is still not confirmed, you may be referred for a venogram which injects liquid into a vein in your foot to show up any clots on an x-ray.

Did you know
Deep vein thrombosis may have few symptoms initially but then goes on to cause swelling, redness, heat or pain in the affected area.
Treatments for deep vein thrombosis

Treatments for deep vein thrombosis

There are several DVT treatments available to help you live more comfortably. Deep vein thrombosis treatment will usually involve medication but may also involve some lifestyle changes too. DVT can occur for no apparent reason, and some people will experience it as a one-off, whereas others may have multiple episodes. Living with deep vein thrombosis may involve taking regular medication for life, to ensure you do not develop blood clots again. Surgery is not usually necessary and is avoided because operations can cause increased risk of blood clotting. A deep vein thrombosis patient will receive treatment in hospital.

There are a number of different types of medication treatments for DVT which are called anticoagulation drugs. These help to prevent blood from clotting easily, prevent clots from getting bigger and ensure clots do not break up, which could be dangerous.

Anticoagulation drugs are given as an injection or infusion, sometimes in hospital and sometimes at home. There are different types such as heparin, warfarin, rivaroxaban and apixaban.

DVT patients are also likely to be advised to wear compression stockings, designed to help treat the existing blood clot or prevent post-thrombotic syndrome. Read more about this condition.

A person with a DVT diagnosis is likely to be advised to take regular exercise, maybe to lose weight if they are overweight, and to quit smoking if they are a smoker.

Did you know
Deep vein thrombosis is treatable with medications that are designed to break down the clot and reduce the risk of further clots forming in the blood.

Living with deep vein thrombosis

A diagnosis of deep vein thrombosis can feel very shocking and worrying. It is a serious condition but is usually treatable. It’s possible for a person to experience deep vein thrombosis once, receive treatment then never have the condition again. Some people may find they have multiple DVTs due to being at a higher risk of developing the condition, perhaps due to genetics or lifestyle.

Living with deep vein thrombosis

Most people with deep vein thrombosis will be diagnosed and treated quickly. They are likely to spend time in hospital, depending on the DVT treatment they are given, and this could be up to 10 or 14 days. Some people are initially treated in hospital and then continue their treatment at home. Leg swelling and pain may take some time to disappear.

Whilst being given treatment for deep vein thrombosis, some people may discover that they have a blood clotting disorder, such as thrombophilia, which means their blood has a natural tendency to clot more easily. Most people with thrombophilia do not know they have it until they get deep vein thrombosis. From that point, they will need regular testing to check blood protein levels and some may need regular anticoagulant injections.

If a person is diagnosed with deep vein thrombosis, they may be advised to undertake lifestyle changes, if their doctors believe their weight, diet, activity levels etc have led to the condition. It is important to note, however, that people who lead healthy lifestyles can also develop deep vein thrombosis.

Read this personal experience of what it is like living with deep vein thrombosis.

Read 8 tips for living well with DVT.

Impact on daily living

Having a DVT diagnosis may affect your daily life for some time, but is unlikely to affect your life permanently unless you develop a condition called post-thrombotic syndrome, which causes long term issues within the affected area, such as pain and swelling.

Your daily life may be affected by deep vein thrombosis for a while, due to the initial DVT symptoms that occur, visiting the GP to receive a diagnosis of deep vein thrombosis, and staying in hospital for DVT treatment.

If you are at a high risk of developing deep vein thrombosis again, you may be advised to change your lifestyle by:

Increasing your exercise/activity levels

Being stationary for long periods of time may put a person at risk of DVT because it causes the blood to pool in the legs rather than keep flowing effectively. People with certain health conditions, mobility problems or obesity may be at higher risk of developing DVT if they are not active enough

Eating more healthily

It is thought that a healthy, balanced diet is likely to lower the risk of developing deep vein thrombosis.

Quitting smoking

Smoking damages blood vessels which can cause blood clots to form more easily.

Cutting down on alcohol

Alcohol makes the blood clot more and excessive or heavy drinking may lead to a higher risk of blood clots. Read more about the effects of drinking alcohol.

Products for deep vein thrombosis

At Healthcare Pro, we provide daily living aids, which are products to use at home to increase mobility and the ability to complete everyday tasks.

If you are at risk of DVT or have had the condition before, you may be interested in using a Pedal exerciser to increase your activity levels and exercise the lower legs. This is a really useful product for people who are unable to move around safely to exercise, but who have good leg function.

If you have mobility problems due to injury, ill health, disability or old age, you may find mobility aids useful to help you get around safely, which will increase your activity levels and lower your risk of developing deep vein thrombosis. For example, some people may be able to use a four wheel rollator, designed to help you walk with support, and with the added benefit of a built-in chair for resting.

This is not an exhaustive list, and if you are looking for products that may help you, we have a team of Occupational Therapists at Healthcare Pro who can advise on the best equipment to suit your needs. Contact them by Email: [email protected] or telephone: 0345 121 8111.

Diet for deep vein thrombosis

There is some evidence that a healthy diet may help lower a person’s risk of deep vein thrombosis, but this is not conclusive. If you are undergoing deep vein thrombosis treatment, you may need to eat a healthy, balanced DVT diet, and avoid alcohol which can interfere with some treatments.

Some people take vitamins and minerals as supplements for deep vein thrombosis. You should always check with your doctor before taking DVT supplements, because they may react with your medical treatments for deep vein thrombosis.

It is possible to reduce your blood cholesterol levels through subtle dietary changes. Read this personal story about how lifestyle changes can lower cholesterol.

Read general healthy eating advice from the NHS Change4Life website.

Exercise for deep vein thrombosis

Regular activity is really important for our overall health and wellbeing, and can help lower the risk of conditions such as deep vein thrombosis, stroke and diabetes.

Deep vein thrombosis is more common in people who have long periods of sitting still or without moving around. DVT can occur in people who have just had an operation or a long trip. Hospitals tend to get people up and about as soon as possible to avoid the risk of DVT, and airlines recommend exercise for deep vein thrombosis prevention such as these simple leg movements and massages. Check with your doctor before starting a new exercise or activity regime.

Read more information about how to get more physical activity into your life.

Deep vein thrombosis and employment

There is no reason why someone who has experienced DVT cannot work, although they are likely to need time off for hospital treatment and recovery. If you have a very sedentary job where you sit for most of the day, you may need to ensure you can move around more frequently and increase your activity levels through the day.

Did you know
Genetics, lack of physical activity, pregnancy, having an operation or taking oral contraceptives or certain medications can increase the risk of deep vein thrombosis.

Support

This guide to deep vein thrombosis is designed to give you all the information you need about the condition and we hope it has been beneficial. DVT is common and treatable, so you are likely to recover well and most people do not have long-lasting effects or health problems as a result. It is essential to seek immediate medical attention if you are worried about anything you have read in this guide, by discussing your concerns with your GP.

There is a lot of DVT help available to you. Here, we list sources of online support for deep vein thrombosis.

Support

Communities

DVT/PE/PTS/RVT Thrombosis Blood Clots Support Group – a Facebook group for people with blood clot related disorders such as DVT, to share tips, advice, information and personal experiences

Resources

Circulation Foundation – a charity promoting research into vascular diseases (those affecting the blood vessels) providing information on various disorders such as DVT

NHS – source of official medical information about causes, symptoms and treatments for deep vein thrombosis and related conditions

Thrombosis Charity – information on deep vein thrombosis and treatment options

Thrombosis UK – a UK charity dedicated to providing DVT advice and information to patients and professionals

Did you know
Deep vein thrombosis can lead to more severe health problems, so it is important to go to the doctor with any possible symptoms.

Glossary

Although we always try to explain things as simply and as clearly as possible, sometimes it’s necessary to use the correct medical terminology.

Medical terms are often known for being tricky to pronounce, and if you’re not an expert on the subject, they can also be a little difficult to understand. Below, we’ve put together a list of terms used on this page along with a brief explanation of what they mean to help make your understanding of deep vein thrombosis as straightforward as possible.

Something that prevents blood from clotting

A common disease caused by cells in the body multiplying to create tumours

Special type of limb cover that applies pressure to the legs to help keep blood flowing

A measure of how the blood forms in the body

A condition where the liver becomes inflamed

A female-only condition where a woman stops having periods and can no longer become pregnant

A female hormone important in fertility and menstruation

A complication of deep vein thrombosis which causes long-term physical effects of the affected limb such as continuous swelling, pain, redness, etc

A complication of deep vein thrombosis, which occurs when part of a blood clot breaks away and travels to the lungs, causing breathing difficulties and potential fatality

A condition causing the blood to clot easily

Used to visually see inside the body

Literally means ‘blood clot’

Enlarged, weak veins that stretch and look bumpy and blue through the skin, which may also not function properly

A disorder caused by inflammation that damages blood vessels

Tube like structures in the body which carry blood back from the organs to the heart

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