Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) occurs when a blood clot develops in a vein deep in the body. DVT can happen to anyone at any time and the complications can be life threatening. The most common DVT complication is called a Pulmonary Embolism (PE), which happens when the blood clot partially or completely breaks away and blocks blood flow to the lungs.
DVT requires immediate medical attention, yet over half of all DVT episodes produce minimal to no symptoms—which means you need to know your personal risk factors and what symptoms to watch for.
Risk factors for DVT and PE:
- Immobility Extended periods of bed rest or sitting, like on a long plane or car ride plane ride
- Age People over 60 have a higher risk, although DVT and PE can happen to anyone at any age
- Pregnancy During pregnancy, a woman’s blood tends to clot more easily, putting her at higher risk for blood clots in deep veins
- Hormones Use of birth control pills or hormones for menopause symptoms
- Obesity Extra weight increases pressure in the veins, especially in the legs and pelvis
- Smoking Affects blood clotting and circulation
- Other conditions Having varicose veins, chronic atrial fibrillation, inflammatory bowel disease, arterial disease or cancer may also increase risk for DVT
- Heredity An inherited clotting disorder or a family history of DVT or PE
Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) Symptoms
DVT occurs most often in the leg. Common symptoms include pain, swelling, tenderness and discoloration or redness.
Pulmonary Embolism (PE) Symptoms
Common symptoms of PE include chest pain, coughing up blood, chest discomfort that worsens when taking a deep breath, rapid or irregular heart beat, lightheadedness, or unexplained sudden onset of shortness of breath
Diagnosing DVT and PE
DVT and PE are medical emergencies and require immediate medical attention. If you or someone you know has symptoms of DVT or PE, please act quickly. If DVT is suspected, it can be confirmed with an ultrasound, a quick and painless exam that uses radio waves to see structures in the body. DVT is preventable and treatable if discovered early. If PE is suspected, it can be diagnosed with computed tomography angiogram (CTA) of the chest. CTA uses a special dye that makes certain structures inside the body more visible.
DVT and PE Treatment
The Association of Alexandria Radiologists, led by Dr. Keith Sterling, offers non-surgical treatment options for DVT and PE that carry less risk of bleeding complications. Our radiologists perform DVT and PE treatments at Inova Alexandria Hospital, Inova Mount Vernon Hospital and Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center. For more information, please contact the hospital location nearest to you.