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Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)

A Deep Vein Thrombus (DVT) is the formation of a blood clot in a deep vein. The most common place for a DVT to occur is usually the lower leg, however they can less frequently occur in other parts of the body e.g. arm.

Small blood clots in most cases do not cause any problems and the body is able to break them down, however, larger blood clots may block or partially block the blood flow in the vein and cause pain or swelling in the calf.

Complications can arise from these larger clots and include:

  • Pulmonary Embolus - This arises when part of the original blood clot breaks off, travels around the bloodstream and lodges itself in the lungs blocking blood flow. This can cause shortness of breath or chest pain. Rarely, part of the blood clot may lodge itself in other organs e.g. the brain which may lead to a stroke.
  • Post Thrombotic Syndrome - Results from damage to the valves along the vein which prevents the blood flowing upwards. The blood pools in the lower leg and can cause pain, swelling and ulceration of the skin around the area.

There are a number of risk factors which increase the likelihood of developing a DVT. Some of these are:

  • Age. People over 40 are at an increased risk of developing a DVT
  • Past history of DVT
  • Cancer
  • Obesity
  • Family history of DVT
  • Paralysis or immobility
  • Inherited blood thickening condition
  • Recent Surgery
  • Taking the Contraceptive pill
  • Hormone Replacement Therapy
  • Long distance travel

A DVT can be diagnosed by ultrasound. The scan looks for blockages of blood flow within the vessels.

A DVT can be treated with anticoagulant medication which alters chemicals in the blood to stop blood clots forming and prevent them increasing in size. This allows the body itself to break down the clot. Thrombolytics are used less frequently due to the increased risk of haemorrhage and they assist in dissolving the clot.

If a pulmonary embolus is left untreated an individual may die.

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