Travelers on long trips, pregnant women, and people on the mend from surgery are among those at increased risk for a silent threat that lurks in veins deep in their bodies. A blood clot called deep vein thrombosis (DVT) may form there, break free, and block lung arteries—a potential killer.
Together, DVT and clots in lung arteries affect up to 600,000 Americans a year and kill at least 100,000. “This is higher than the annual death toll from breast cancer, AIDS, and traffic crashes combined,” says Samer Kazziha, MD, interventional cardiologist on staff at Crittenton. “Yet many people are unaware of this threat.”
DVT is a blood clot that can form in the deep veins of your leg following surgery or long periods of bed rest in the hospital, among other reasons. “If the clot becomes loose, it can break away and travel to the heart or lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism,” says Dr. Kazziha.
“Once you have experienced a blood clot, because of the permanent damage to your veins, you are prone to long-term vascular concerns, such as recurrent DVT, post-thrombotic syndrome (PTS), and venous stasis ulcers,” says Dr. Kazziha. “These can lead to long-term pain, swelling, numbness, painful chronic inflammation, and nonhealing ulcers on the leg.”
Who Is At Risk?
- Travel and stay motionless for six or more hours
- Have just had major surgery
- Are overweight and do not exercise
- Are pregnant
- Are taking oral contraception or many other medications
- Inherited blood clotting traits
- Are older than 60 (although DVT can occur at any age)
These factors, among others, pose the greatest risk for DVT. Talk with your doctor if you are concerned about any of these risk factors.
Leg compression, foot compression, and graduated compression stockings can all move blood in your lower limbs, helping prevent DVT. Anticoagulation drugs can also prevent DVT by disrupting your blood’s natural coagulation process.
Cutting-Edge Treatment of DVT
“When DVT is discovered, the goal of treatment is to prevent the clot from growing, to ensure that it does not break off and travel through the veins to the lungs,” says Dr. Kazziha.
For the past 50 years, treatment for DVT has been primarily limited to the use of anticoagulation drugs. However, evidence has shown that anticoagulation medication alone is not the immediate or total answer.
Anticoagulation medication prevents clots from enlarging and reduces the risk that a clot will travel to the lungs. It does not, however, actively dissolve the clot. Clots that are left even after the use of anticoagulation therapy can cause vein damage, leading to a condition called post-thrombotic syndrome (PTS). This may occur as a long-term complication of DVT. Approximately 50 percent of patients will develop signs of PTS within one month of a DVT.
A new minimally invasive procedure called pharmacomechanical thrombolysis can avoid these complications, most often in a single treatment. During this procedure, doctors enter the venous system through a needle-sized access point in the leg and break up and remove the clot. Doctors may also deliver a clot-busting medication directly to the clot to help speed up the dissolving process.
Patients can experience these benefits from the procedure:
- Low risk for complications
- Shorter ICU stay (83 percent of patients can leave the hospital in one to two days)
- Reduced exposure to clot-busting medication
Crittenton is one of the few hospitals that offer this cutting-edge treatment for removal of DVT.
To speak with a Crittenton Hospital doctor or to learn more about DVT, call (248) 652-5000.