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What is Deep Vein Thrombosis?

If you find that your loved one is experiencing pain, swelling or redness in his or her lower legs, don’t hesitate to see a doctor. He or she may be experiencing a deep vein thrombosis, or DVT. A pulmonary embolism carries symptoms of shortness of breath, pain when breathing deeply, or coughing up blood, rapid breathing or a fast heart rate.

This is a lot of information to take in at once. What is a DVT? What is a pulmonary embolism?

A DVT is a blood clot that forms deep in a vein in the lower body. If you aren’t familiar with what a blood clot is, think of it this way. Blood runs through the body with the consistency of tomato juice; a clot would be like the thickening or solidifying of part of the “juice” that would block blood flow.

This blockage of blood flow can damage the area where the flow has stopped. A clot can also break away and travel through the bloodstream to the heart and then the lungs. Once there, the clot can get lodged in an artery in the lungs and block blood flow there, causing a pulmonary embolism. Pulmonary embolisms can be life threatening if not treated quickly. Deep vein blood clots break off from the thigh and lower leg more than anywhere else to cause a pulmonary embolism.

Clots such as these form from lack of motion, which can cause sluggish or slow blood flow. So, anytime after your loved one has had surgery, he or she needs to get up and get moving. If you have been traveling for a long time, have your loved one walk up and down the aisle of the airplane or pull over the car so he or she can stretch and walk a bit. This is good advice for you too, as DVTs can happen to anyone.

Check with your loved one’s physician to see if there is a history of conditions or factors that would make your loved one’s blood thicken or clot. If your loved one has ever had a central venous catheter, he or she could also be at risk. Being overweight, obese, or a smoker can all contribute to deep vein clotting, too.

Treatments for DVT include prescription of anticoagulants, or blood thinners.such as warfarin, also known as Coumadin, or heparin. Heparin acts quickly and is used when patients are on prolonged bedrest to prevent DVT. There are other thrombolytics that are used in rare cases, but these are the most common.

You may also want to check into compression hose, which keeps the blood from pooling or clotting in the affected leg, by putting pressure on the ankle and gradually lessening the pressure going up the leg. They are available over the counter and in prescription strength.

Resource: National Institute of Health