10 Questions to Ask Your Doctor About DVT

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

DVT stands for deep vein thrombosis, a blood clot in one of your body's deep veins, usually within a muscle of your leg.

The biggest danger is that part of the clot could break off and travel to your lungs. It could cause a blockage known as a pulmonary embolism, or PE. Your doctor will talk to you about how likely that is to happen with your clot.

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

People with a deep-vein clot in their leg usually have swelling, pain, tenderness, 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. He may use other imaging tests and blood tests to confirm the diagnosis.

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

You can get a clot when you're sitting still for hours, like on a long plane ride or car trip. One can form after surgery and a long hospital stay. Women who take hormones such as estrogen in birth control pills or after menopause are more likely to get a clot. So are smokers. 

You should talk to your doctor to figure out what led to yours.

4. How will you treat my DVT?

Your doctor will likely start by giving you shots of heparin. It's a kind of drug called a blood thinner that makes it harder for your blood to clot. Then, you may need to take blood thinner pills, such as apixaban (Eliquis), dabigatran (Pradaxa), edoxaban (Savaysa), rivaroxaban (Xarelto), or warfarin (Coumadin). If you take warfarin, you'll need to get your blood checked often, too.

Blood thinners won't break up the clot; your body must do that over time. But they will keep it from getting any bigger and prevent more from forming.

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

It depends on what caused your clot. Someone who's had a DVT typically takes blood thinners for 6 months. If the clot had just one cause, like surgery, and you don't have any other risk factors for DVT, it might be less time. If it was because of an inherited condition or an ongoing (chronic) disease, it could be longer.

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

Doctors use drugs called thrombolytics to quickly break down a big clot that threatens to cut off blood flow. Your doctor will want to keep a close eye on you, because the medication can cause uncontrolled bleeding.

Or your doctor may recommend surgery to put a vena cava filter -- a tiny umbrella-like device -- inside the big vein that goes to your lungs. It can catch a dislodged clot before it causes trouble.

7. Can I exercise while being treated?

You can still move around and walk after you've been diagnosed, but you should take it easy. After about a week, you can gradually build up your activity level.

Talk to your doctor about what exercise you like to do and whether it's safe.

8. Can DVT cause a stroke or heart attack?

A clot from a deep vein usually doesn't move to the heart to cause a heart attack or to the brain to cause a stroke. But a blood clot in an artery -- called arterial thrombosis -- can.

9. Are there any lasting effects after DVT?

Some people have occasional pain, swelling, and skin color changes where the clot was. This is known as post-thrombotic syndrome.

10. What are my chances of having another DVT? Can I prevent it?

One-third of people with DVT or PE will have a second bout within 10 years. Preventing that depends on what caused yours in the first place.

Some things, like age and inherited blood disorders, can't be helped. But you can make some changes to lower your risk, such as losing weight and being more active. On long trips or when you have to sit for a long time, you'll need to stretch your legs, get up, and move around.

If you have to go to the hospital for any reason, explain to the staff that you've had DVT. They'll likely put you on blood thinners or use compression stockings on your legs to keep your blood flowing and avoid another clot.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Suzanne R. Steinbaum, MD on August 18, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

CDC: "Deep Vein Thrombosis [DVT] / Pulmonary Embolism [PE] -- Blood Clot Forming in a Vein, Facts."

Marc Passman, MD, director, Vein Program, University of Alabama at Birmingham.

NIH MedlinePlus: "Deep Vein Thrombosis: Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment and Latest NIH Research."

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: "How Is Deep Vein Thrombosis Treated?"

Sam Schulman, MD, director, Clinical Thromboembolism Program, Hamilton Health Sciences, Hamilton General Hospital, Hamilton, Ontario.

Natalie Evans, MD, vascular medicine specialist, Miller Family Heart and Vascular Institute, Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, OH.

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