Danger! Deep Vein Thrombosis
Could you have a life-threatening blood clot?
One DVT Survivor's Story continued...
"I didn't have the typical symptoms," she tells WebMD. "DVT is just not the first thing you think of with a 38-year old person."
By the time she was diagnosed, the clot was so large that it extended from the veins in her knee to within an inch of her heart. The grim irony of her story is that every medical intervention -- which included multiple hospitalizations -- was leaving her more inactive and probably worsening her condition.
Deep Vein Thrombosis: Diagnosis and Treatments
There are a number of tests that can identify deep vein thrombosis. Doctors most commonly use ultrasound to examine the veins in your legs and groin.
And, there are highly effective treatments for deep vein thrombosis. They include:
Anticoagulants, or blood thinners, are standard treatment for people with deep vein thrombosis. "These drugs don't actually break up the clot," explains Perler. "They basically stop the clot from growing, while the body sends in its own clot-busting molecules to dissolve it."
The amount of time that a person needs treatment with anticoagulants varies. On average, it is between three to six months. But some people need it for longer, and a few for the rest of their lives.
Catheter procedures are necessary if standard treatments aren't enough. Some people have bad reactions to blood thinners or find that they don't work. People with injuries or surgical wounds can't take blood thinners, since they could cause uncontrollable bleeding.
In these cases, your doctor might use a catheter -- a narrow tube that is guided into your vein. Once there, the catheter can suck up pieces of the clot. Or it can also place a filter into your vein, which will catch any blood clots before they get to the lung.
More commonly, catheters are used to deliver "clot buster" drugs directly to the clot. These are much more powerful than anticoagulants, and can actually break up the clot itself. The procedure does have risks, since it can result in bleeding elsewhere in the body -- most dangerously, in the brain.
Pulmonary embolism is a much more dangerous condition than deep vein thrombosis, but it can be treated as well. The standard procedure is to administer clot-busting drugs with a catheter.
The key to treating deep vein thrombosis is to act quickly. Studies show that if you get prompt treatment for DVT, your chances of developing a pulmonary embolism are less than 1%. So never ignore any symptoms.
"As a general rule, if you have symptoms like pain, swelling, or increased warmth that last longer than 24 hours, you should seek medical attention," says Merli.