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10 Questions You Should Ask Your Doctor About DVT

By Suz Redfearn
WebMD Feature

1. What is DVT? And how dangerous is it?

DVT stands for deep vein thrombosis, a blood clot in one of the body’s deep veins, usually deep within the leg. The biggest danger of DVT is that part of the clot could break off and travel to the lungs, where it can cause a blockage known as a pulmonary embolism, or PE, says Marc Passman, director of the vein program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Your doctor will talk to you about how much of a risk your clot poses.

2. Are you sure I have a DVT? How is it diagnosed?

People with a deep-vein clot in the leg usually complain about swelling, pain, tenderness, and/or redness in one leg, but sometimes both.

Your doctor will do a physical exam. He'll also send you for an ultrasound to see how blood is flowing through your veins and may use other imaging tests and blood tests to confirm the diagnosis.

3. How did I get DVT? What causes it?

The causes of DVT can vary. A clot may be caused by taking hormones such as estrogen. Or a clot can result from being immobile, such as taking a long plane ride without getting up to stretch your legs. Other causes include surgery followed by a long hospital stay. It’s important that you and your doctor talk through all the possible causes of DVT to determine what led to yours.

4. How will you treat my DVT?

The doctor will likely start you on injections of a blood-thinning drug called heparin, Passman says. Soon after, you may start taking a second blood thinner by mouth, such as Xarelto or warfarin. Your doctor will check your blood frequently while you are taking warfarin.

Blood thinners don't break up the clot; the body must do that over time. They do prevent more clots from forming and keep your clot from getting any bigger.

5. How long will I have to stay on blood thinners?

Your doctor will work with you to determine how long you'll take the drugs. It depends on what caused your clot. Typically, a person who has had DVT may stay on blood thinners for 6 months. If the clot had just one cause, like surgery, and you have no other risk factors for DVT, it might be less than 6 months. If the DVT resulted from an inherited condition or a chronic disease, it could be longer.

6. What if I can’t take blood thinners, or the clot is really big?

If you can’t take blood thinners, your doctor may recommend surgical placement of a vena cava filter -- a tiny umbrella-like device -- inside the vein above the clot. It can catch a dislodged clot within the vein and keep it from traveling to your lungs.

Drugs called thrombolytics may be used to quickly break down a big clot that threatens to cut off blood flow. People taking these drugs must be closely watched because the medication can cause uncontrolled bleeding.

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