Deep Vein Thrombosis Treatment Options
People who are over 60 have a greater risk of deep vein thrombosis, as they tend to be less active. This condition occurs when a blood clot forms in a deep vein, leading to serious, possibly life-threatening complications. It is important to know what causes blood clots, as well as the different deep vein thrombosis causes and what deep vein thrombosis treatment consists of.
According to the CDC, around 900,000 people in the U.S. develop a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) every year. While the actual condition is not immediately life threatening, early deep vein thrombosis treatment is essential. The clot can loosen and eventually lodge the lungs, causing severe illness or even death.
This article explains what deep vein thrombosis is, DVT symptoms and treatment options. We also have a look at the underlying causes and discuss, most importantly, what actions you can take to reduce your risk of developing deep vein thrombosis.
What Is Deep Vein Thrombosis?
Blood clots can develop in a deep vein when the blood flows too slowly. Deep veins send blood back to the heart. Furthermore, genetics and other risk factors can contribute by reducing blood clotting time.
The blood flow in our arteries is under higher pressure from the heart’s pump action, compared to the blood flowing in our veins. Return blood flow needs to be helped along by valves in the veins and the squeezing action of muscles during normal activity. This explains why DVT occurs most often in the legs, although it can also happen in the pelvis, arms and even abdomen.
Symptoms of Deep Vein Thrombosis
Suspect deep vein thrombosis if you experience the following symptoms in any part of a leg, or even an arm:
- Unexplained swelling
- Pain (usually throbbing or cramping)
- The area is tender to touch
- Redness, although the skin can also turn pale or have a bluish tinge
Unfortunately, about half the time, people with DVT do not experience any symptoms. The first they know about it is when they develop a pulmonary embolism, which is a blood clot in the lung.
The symptoms of DVT can be confused with an infection, or a number of other conditions. To be on the safe side you should visit a medical practitioner for a proper diagnosis if you experience any of the mentioned symptoms.
Deep Vein Thrombosis Treatment
Deep vein thrombosis can be reasonably and accurately diagnosed with a medical examination, but your medical practitioner will usually order an ultrasound scan to confirm the diagnosis. Treatment varies depending on the extent to which the clot is blocking the blood flow in the affected vein.
The most common treatment is to prescribe a blood thinning agent, such as warfarin or rivaroxaban. This will prevent the clot from getting bigger and it also prevents further blood clots from developing.
This treatment is usually prescribed for three to six months, depending on personal risk factors. You need to take this medication exactly as prescribed, as internal bleeding can occur if you take too much.
While on this treatment, you should not take any products containing aspirin or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, such as ibuprofen or naproxen. These medications will thin your blood further. You also need to ask your medical practitioner about the safety of any vitamins and herbal supplements you are taking.
Treatments for Severe Deep Vein Thrombosis
Where a large clot causes severe circulatory problems, you might be treated with intravenous drugs which break up the clot. This treatment is not used routinely as there is a significant risk of bleeding and stroke.
A more recent treatment is to break up and suck out the clot by inserting a specialized tube into the vein. The clot might also be surgically removed if the vein is severely blocked and blood is not reaching the surrounding tissue.
Aftercare for Deep Vein Thrombosis Patients
You will probably be advised to wear compression stockings all the time for a while, even when sitting. Severe DVT can cause permanent damage to veins resulting in reduced blood flow with persistent pain and swelling in the affected leg. In this case, you might have to wear compression stockings permanently.
You should also avoid long journeys for at least two weeks after DVT, so that the anticoagulant therapy can take full effect. Move around as much as possible by taking regular short walks and raise the affected limb when sitting.
Around 33% of those who have had a DVT will experience another one within 10 years. Therefore it is important to consider the factors that contribute to developing DVT and address those factors over which you do have control.
Causes of Deep Vein Thrombosis
Now that you know about DVT symptoms and treatment options, it's good to know about the risk factors and causes as well, so you can prevent DVT in the future.
Lack of mobility and inactivity is the one cause that should be of most concern for over 60’s.
Limitation of movement due to old age can result in a sedentary lifestyle. Bed rest while recovering from illness, injury or surgery also limits movement. Another known risk is sitting for hours on end while travelling.
Other factors that can predispose you to DVT are:
- Previous injury or surgery which caused damage to a vein
- Inherited blood clotting disorders
- Certain medications, including hormone replacement therapy
- Being overweight
- Some health conditions, including heart failure and cancer
Preventing Deep Vein Thrombosis
Avoid sitting still for long periods, get up and move around every hour or so and build some exercise into your daily program. Try to avoid sitting with your legs crossed as this also restricts blood flow.
After an illness, injury or surgery, try to get moving as soon as possible. There are a number of procedures that are used in hospitals to prevent DVT. This can include compression stockings and leg exercises while patients are immobilized, getting patients up as soon as possible and low doses of anti-coagulants.
Other Lifestyle Factors
Your blood becomes thicker when you are dehydrated, so make sure that you always drink enough fluids during the day. You can also reduce your risk of DVT by losing weight, if you are overweight, and by quitting smoking.
Tips for Travelling
Travel which involves sitting still for more than three hours poses a particular risk for developing DVT.
When travelling by car, make regular stops to stretch and walk around. On a bus, train or plane stand up and walk in the aisles at least every two hours.
If you cannot walk around, exercise your lower legs. Lift your heels a few times while keeping your toes on the ground and then lift your toes while keeping your heels down. You can also make circles in the air with your toes.
Wear loose clothes while travelling to avoid restricting blood flow. If you know that you are at high risk for DVT, or even if your feet and lower legs tend to swell when you sit for a long time, wear compression stockings or flight socks. Compression stockings assist blood flow by maintaining gentle pressure on the leg. They can be prescribed by your medical practitioner, but are also available from pharmacies and airport shops. Ask for advice to make sure that you get the correct size.
Preventing and Managing the Symptoms
Although deep vein thrombosis can occur at any age, people who are over 60 are at a higher risk. There are steps you can take to reduce your risk, the most important being to stay active.
If you experience swelling, pain, tenderness and redness in any of your extremities, consult a medical practitioner as soon as possible. Early treatment of deep vein thrombosis can prevent serious consequences.