Danger! Deep Vein Thrombosis
Could you have a life-threatening blood clot?
Long-Term Consequences of DVT
"Clinicians are more aware now of pulmonary embolism, because it can kill people," says Perler. "But many still ignore the more common complication of DVT, which is called chronic venous insufficiency (CVI) or postphlebitic syndrome."
After a blood clot has developed, it can destroy or damage the valves in the veins, says Perler. This can cause chronic problems. While not life-threatening, they can have a profound impact on a person's quality of life. The symptoms vary in intensity.
"At the mild end of the spectrum, people with postphlebitic syndrome might get chronic leg swelling and skin discoloration," Goldhaber tells WebMD. "Other people have much worse symptoms that force them into early retirement because they simply can't stand up for long." Goldhaber says that postphlebitic syndrome can also result in ulcers in the skin that may require surgery.
Goldhaber says that as many as two thirds of people with DVT go on to suffer from postphlebitic syndrome. Perler estimates that up to 15 million people in the U.S. are now living with it.
Wilcox, the DVT survivor, knows the lasting effects of this condition.
"I will always suffer from what happened to me," Wilcox tells WebMD. "It's changed my life, and the lives of the people around me, forever. I have to wear compression hose, take a daily blood thinner, and I always have to worry about recurrence."
What Lies Ahead: More Aggressive DVT Treatments
To prevent the results of postphlebitic syndrome, Perler believes that treatment of DVT will become more aggressive in the future, at least with relatively healthy patients. Currently, the standard treatment for DVT is just to use blood thinners. But these drugs leave some of the clot in place, which can lead to the complications of postphlebitic syndrome.
Perler says if more powerful clot-busting drugs are administered by catheter, the entire clot can be removed. "There's pretty good evidence that if you treat the DVT aggressively and dissolve the clot," he tells WebMD, "you can entirely prevent complications down the road."
While clot-busting drugs carry risks, Perler hopes that new drugs being tested now will prove faster and safer.