Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) occurs when a blood clot forms in a vein deep within your body, usually in the legs or pelvis. When blood clots get stuck and accumulate inside veins, they can damage the vein and interfere with the flow of blood back to your heart. DVT can also cause the blood to pool within your legs, causing pain and making it difficult to walk.
|With deep vein thrombosis (DVT), blood clots form in the large veins deep within the legs, pelvis and sometimes in the arms. DVT strikes about 1 in 20 people over the course of a lifetime. Sometimes a blood clot may break free from a deep vein, as in diagram #3 here. If the blood clot makes its way into an artery in the lung, it is called a pulmonary embolism (PE). PE is life-threatening condition that can cause heart failure. It is important to call 911 if you have trouble breathing or if you are coughing up blood.
If a blood clot travels to the lung, it can cause a dangerous condition called pulmonary embolism (PE). Blood clots in the deep veins can break free and travel to other parts of the body; a PE occurs when that blood clot travels through the heart and blocks flow to the heart. DVT can increase your risk of heart attack and stroke, too. That’s because in some people, these clots may get into the arterial system and block flow in arteries to the brain or heart.
Rise in Treating DVT with Angioplasty and Stenting
After many years of success and improvements in angioplasty and stenting to treat the arteries that supply the heart, legs and kidneys with blood, it is becoming more common to use these procedures to treat other conditions, such as DVT.
Although doctors and their patients usually begin treatment of DVT by making lifestyle changes and taking blood-thinning medications, many patients have found relief from their DVT symptoms after treatment with angioplasty and stenting.
Angioplasty and Stenting in the Deep Veins
A doctor specializing in interventional procedures, such as an interventional cardiologist, uses a thin, flexible tube called a catheter to insert and open a small balloon in the blocked or narrowed vein to open it wider. A stent may also be inserted to keep the vein open after the balloon is inflated.
A catheter can also be used to direct clot-dissolving medication directly to the clots that are causing the problem within the veins.
If your doctor is concerned about the blood clots breaking free from veins in your legs or pelvis, he or she may also recommend angioplasty to place filters inside the major vein in the abdomen. The filter catches blood clots that could break free from leg or pelvic veins and potentially reach the heart and lungs where they can cause even more serious problems. (See the discussion below on "When DVT Becomes an Emergency.")
Click here to learn more about angioplasty and here to see how stents work.
DVT Symptoms and Risk Factors
If have any of the following symptoms, you should see your doctor and ask about DVT:
- Swelling and pain in the legs or ankles, particularly when it is just one side
- Areas on your legs that are warm to the touch
- Pain while walking or soon after stopping
Click here for a complete list of symptoms and the SecondsCount Leg Vein Symptoms Log. This tool can help you collect your thoughts about your symptoms so you can share it your doctor and work together on a treatment plan that is right for you.
According to the Vascular Disease Foundation, DVT affects more people each year than heart attack and stroke but as many as half do not have symptoms. So, be sure to check with your doctor if you are over 60, smoke, are overweight or sit for long periods of time.
When DVT Becomes an Emergency
Blood from veins deep within your body flow to the vena cava, a large vein deep in the abdomen that carries oxygen-depleted blood to the heart and lungs. When blood clots form in these deep veins, they have a direct route to the lungs if they break free. When a blood clot travels through the veins and reaches one of your lungs, it’s can cause a pulmonary embolism (PE) — a potentially life-threatening condition. All the flow through the heart first has to be pumped to the lungs to pick up oxygen before it is pumped to the rest of the body. A PE stops that flow to the lungs. So the heart is then not able to pump blood to the rest of the body, dropping the blood pressure and robbing the body of oxygen.
Call 911 and seek immediate medical treatment if you suddenly and without explanation:
- Have trouble breathing,
- Experience sharp pains in the chest, or
- Cough up blood or pink, foamy mucus
Other symptoms of pulmonary embolism include:
- Unexplained heavy sweating
- Feeling faint or light-headed
- Racing heart rate
These symptoms could also signal a heart attack—but you won’t know for sure until you get help. Any time you have trouble breathing or think you might be having a heart attack, it is important to call 911.
This website provides a comprehensive resource about leg vein problems, including varicose veins and spider veins. You can learn more about the causes and symptoms of venous disease as well as current tests and treatments here in the SecondsCount Center on Leg Vein Problems.