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
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
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.
Experts say that you also need to take an active role in getting the right
help. While health care professionals are more aware of DVT than they used to
be, many people at high risk of DVT are still not given preventive treatment.
"Clinicians are generally aware of DVT," says Perler, "but studies show that a
large portion of the medical community still doesn't fully understand who is at
greater risk and what precautions need to be taken."
So if you're going into the hospital for surgery or another medical
procedure or treatment that will lay you up for a while, talk with your doctor
about taking preventive measures for deep vein thrombosis.