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 Why Are DVTs So Dangerous?

Deep vein thrombosis

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a serious condition that occurs when blood thickens into a solid clump and forms a clot (thrombus) within a vein deep inside your body. Though the problem can affect any deep vein, most DVTs appear in the lower leg, thigh, or pelvis. 

Of vascular diseases, DVT is the third most common after heart attack and stroke. Much like these critical cardiac events, DVT can quickly put your health in grave danger — especially if you delay medical intervention by waiting to see if your symptoms improve.   

Here, our skilled team of board-certified specialists at Vascular Vein Centers discusses what makes DVT so perilous and explains why it’s vitally important to seek prompt diagnosis and care any time you notice the warning signs of a blood clot in your deep vein.    

Underlying causes and risk factors

Three basic mechanisms can set the stage for the development of a blood clot in one of your deep veins. A DVT may form: 

Certain factors increase your chances of experiencing DVT. As with other cardiovascular risk assessments, your DVT risk is cumulative, meaning the more factors you have, the greater your likelihood of developing a clot in one of your deep veins.      

Unalterable factors

DVT risk factors that can’t be modified include advanced age, family history, and having a health condition like cancer, heart disease, lung disease, or inflammatory bowel disease that puts your body into a hypercoagulable state, which means that your blood clots more easily.   

Pregnancy and vein damage caused by injury or surgery are DVT risk factors that aren’t necessarily avoidable.  

Modifiable factors 

Prolonged inactivity of any kind — whether it’s bed rest, sitting for hours every day, or being in one position for many uninterrupted hours (such as during car or airplane travel) — is both a common and modifiable DVT risk factor. Did you know that more than half of DVTs occur after a hospital stay in which most of the time was spent lying in bed? 

Other key modifiable DVT risk factors include smoking, carrying excess weight, and using estrogen-containing hormonal birth control or hormone replacement therapy. 

Dangerous DVT complications  

DVT can cause a partial or complete blockage of blood flow. Though any degree of blockage may trigger sudden swelling and pain in the affected vein, DVTs can also occur without symptoms. Why does this matter? Because even when it doesn’t cause symptoms, DVT has the potential to be very dangerous.   

Pulmonary embolism (PE)

Even though DVT itself isn’t a life-threatening condition, the blood clot it may cause can be deadly if part of it (embolus) breaks free, travels through your bloodstream, makes its way into your lungs, and causes a critical medical emergency called a pulmonary embolism (PE). Red-flag warning signs include:

Each year in the United States, up to 600,000 people experience a PE. Although recovery is likely from a PE if the clot is small and treatment is prompt, lasting lung damage is possible. If the clot is large, however, it can block blood flow to the lungs and cause sudden death. 

Post-thrombotic syndrome (PTS)

Up to half of people who have a DVT develop long-term complications caused by the damage the clot does to the valves in the vein. This condition, called post-thrombotic syndrome (PTS), can cause chronic swelling, pain, skin changes, and in severe cases, open sores called ulcers in the affected body area. 

Long-term complications 

Sometimes, DVT and PE can turn into a chronic health condition — about one in three people (30%) who’ve had a DVT or PE are at an increased risk of experiencing subsequent episodes. PTS symptoms can also become so severe that they’re disabling.

Prevent DVT and its complications

Because DVT often develops without obvious symptoms — and because newly formed clots are more likely than older clots to break away, travel through your bloodstream, and endanger your health or your life — swift diagnosis and treatment of DVT is important. 

This is why it’s so important to understand your personal level of DVT risk, and if your risk is relatively high, see our Vascular Vein Centers team for a comprehensive vascular assessment at one of our IAC-accredited diagnostic ultrasound imaging labs. 

Fortunately, DVT is treatable. Any serious complications associated with DVT are also preventable with early detection and care. In the majority of cases, taking anticoagulant medication, more commonly called blood thinners, can help to reduce the size and consistency of DVTs so that they pose a smaller threat. 

Reach out to us today to learn more, or schedule a visit at your nearest Vascular Vein Centers office in College Park of Orlando, Waterford Lakes of East Orlando, Kissimmee, Davenport/Haines City, Lake Mary, or The Villages, Florida, any time.

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