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Deep Venous Thrombos and Pulmonary Embolism

Deep venous thrombosis, also known as DVT, is a common condition which affects many people. While a blood clot (also known as a thrombus) can form in virtually any blood vessel in the body, the deep veins of the pelvis, thighs, or legs are a very common place for them to form.

What is the significance of a DVT?

While the blood clot may remain in the vein in which it originated, it is important to remember that all veins feed into larger veins which ultimately lead to the heart and lungs. This is how the blood replenishes its supply of oxygen in order to make another cycle through the body. Blood vessels are like one way streets. They only flow in one direction.

If a portion of the blood clot breaks off from a deep vein, the one way path of the blood in that vessel will carry it toward the right side of the heart. While lodging in the relatively large chambers in the right side of the heart, per se, would not be much of an issue, the clot does not stop there. The right side of the heart continuously pumps its blood into blood vessels in lungs and from there the oxygen-rich blood goes to the left side of the heart to be pumped throughout the body to nourish the cells of the body with oxygen. It is the passage through the relatively small blood vessels in the lungs that causes potentially catastrophic problems.

What are common signs of a DVT?

Redness in the leg or thigh

What are risk factors for a DVT?

Immobilization (such as prolonged car trips or even lying in bed for a few days while sick for some other reason). If you take long car trips, get out every couple of hours and walk around. If you become sick with the flu or some other illness, try not to lie around in bed all day. Get up in a chair for a few hours each day and walk around as much as you can.

Recent surgery (in part because of the immobilization that frequently follows surgery)
Prior DVT
Trauma to a lower extremity
Post-menopausal state (having gone through the menopause)

What are complications of a DVT?

While a stationary blood clot in a leg or pelvic vein may cause warmth, swelling, and pain these are very minor issues compared to the most dreaded complication of this condition, a pulmonary embolism or PE. Pulmonary refers to the lungs and embolism refers to obstruction of a blood vessel that results when something (usually a blood clot) gets stuck in it.

A pulmonary embolism can be immediately fatal, or it can cause few, if any symptoms. The classic textbook case is that a person experiences an abrupt onset of shortness of breath and chest pain, often worsened by breathing. Heart racing and sometimes coughing up blood may also occur, though an individual may have any combination of these symptoms,or none at all.

Fortunately, there is treatment for both DVTs and pulmonary emboli, so it is important to recognize their warning signs.

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Content copyright © 2013 by A. Maria Hester, M.D.. All rights reserved.
This content was written by A. Maria Hester, M.D.. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Patricia Villani, MPA, PhD for details.

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