Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a preventable but serious medical condition where blood clots form in your veins. Most often, these clots are in your lower leg, thigh, or pelvis. They can sometimes affect your arms. But these aren’t the only parts of your body that feel the effects of DVT. There can be fallout for your heart as well.
DVT is only one type of blood clot that can happen in your cardiovascular system. A blood clot in an artery is called arterial thrombosis instead of DVT. These are two separate but related conditions.
Can Heart Problems Cause DVT?
Here are some of the causes of DVT that are related to heart disease:
Heart failure, where your heart muscle is too weak or damaged to pump well, slows down your blood flow. This can cause your blood to clot more easily than it should.
Atrial fibrillation, or fluttering, irregular heartbeats, have been linked to a higher risk of DVT. That’s because they affect the way blood flows through your heart.
Things outside your heart can also increase your risk of DVT. They include:
Genetic diseases. Certain inherited diseases, which are related to proteins required for blood clotting or substances that dissolve clots or slow the clotting process, can raise your risk of DVT.
Birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy. These medications can slow blood flow and cause clotting.
Inactivity. Keeping your body in one position for a long time (such as when you’re recovering from surgery or injury, or taking a long road trip or plane ride) can lead to blood clots.
You’re also at higher risk of clotting if you:
- Have diabetes
- Are overweight or obese
- Have metabolic syndrome
- Are pregnant
- Have cancer
What’s the Link Between DVT and the Heart?
DVT occurs in your veins. Your heart relies on veins to transport blood and other necessary supplies back from other parts of your body. Although DVT doesn’t actually happen in your heart, the clots can pass through the heart while traveling to your lungs.
Here’s how it works: your veins are like highways. After your limbs and other body parts use the oxygen in your blood, your veins bring the now oxygen-poor blood back to your heart so your cardiovascular system can refuel.
The heart’s right pumping chamber, known as the right ventricle, sends this blood to your lungs. There, blood cells pick up oxygen. This oxygen-laden blood then returns to the heart, which pumps it out for your body to use. This time, the blood exits the heart via arteries.
What Problems Can DVT Cause?
Pulmonary embolism (PE) is the most serious problem that can happen when you have DVT. About half of people with DVT will develop PE symptoms within 3 months.
When you have PE, part of the clot in your vein breaks off and travels upstream, first through your limbs and then through your heart toward your lungs. If this clot gets trapped and blocks blood from reaching your lungs, the blood can’t be refueled with the oxygen that the heart and the rest of your body need to work properly.
PE is serious and can be fatal. One in 4 people who have it die suddenly. But it can be treated if you catch it in time.
The key to quick treatment is spotting the warning signs of PE. They include:
- Shortness of breath or rapid breathing
- Dizziness or fainting
- Chest pain or discomfort, especially when you breathe deeply or cough
- Fast pulse
- Coughing up blood
If you have DVT, you can get complications in the veins and skin of your legs and arms. This condition is called postthrombotic syndrome or postphlebitic syndrome. It’s not life-threatening, but the lack of blood flow in your limbs can result in swelling, pain, skin discoloration, and skin sores. These symptoms won’t affect your heart.
Can DVT Hurt Your Brain or Heart?
Stroke and myocardial infarction are dangerous events that happen when oxygen-rich blood can’t reach your brain or heart. These conditions are caused by blockages in your arteries. Because DVT happens in the part of your circulatory system where the blood isn’t carrying oxygen, it can’t cause them.
There does seem to be a link between stroke and DVT, though. People who’ve had a stroke are at higher risk of also getting DVT. Doctors think this may be because many conditions that increase blood clotting can make you prone to clotting all over your circulatory system, both in your arteries and your veins. Strokes may cause loss of movement, which is another risk factor for DVT. Immobility can make it harder for you to get enough fluids, causing dehydration – which also raises your odds for DVT.
Medicines that prevent clotting in people with heart disease can also prevent and treat DVT. Anticoagulant drugs that doctors prescribe to people with heart arrhythmia, or who have an implanted heart valve or stent, can reduce the risk of blood clots elsewhere in the body.
If you’ve had DVT, your doctor may prescribe one of these medications to keep your clot from growing or breaking off.