Deep Vein Thrombosis: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment


DVT (deep vein thrombosis) is a circulatory condition comprising the formation of a blood clot within a vein, most commonly in the leg, but other areas of the body such as the arms or pelvis can also be affected. Although not life-threatening in itself, the possibility of a clot travelling to the lungs poses a potentially very serious threat.


Perhaps the best known cause of DVT is a lack of movement,putting the long-term immobile at a higher risk, particularly those in hospital following a surgical procedure. The condition is also often associated with air travel, when an individual may be sitting in the same position for several hours, possibly in combination with other risk factors such as dehydration, age, the use of hormonal contraceptives or obesity. It is more common amongst men and can also be a hereditary condition.


In some instances there are no obvious symptoms of DVT, but pain, swelling, heat and redness at the site of the clot are often seen. There may also be visible enlargement of surface veins in this area. If DVT is suspected the individual should be taken straight to hospital where tests can be carried out to determine if this is indeed the case, including blood tests and the use of ultrasound or x-rays.


Patients will usually be prescribed anticoagulant drugs to prevent the exisiting clot from getting any larger and to stop any more forming. In time, with no further complications, the body will break down the clot in the vein. There are also a number of preventative methods which can be undertaken by those at risk from DVT. Compression stockings are a popular choice and are available in varying degrees of tightness (known as grades), depending on the needs and tolerance of the individual patient. These should generally be worn on a daily basis and will need renewing every three to six months.

Certain exercises are also effective in terms of both treatment and prevention, particularly walking which improves circulation. Raising the legs when sitting down can also be beneficial, ensuring the feet are higher than the hips.It is important when sitting for long periods, particularly when on an aircraft, to get up and move about at regular intervals and to exercise the calf muscles even when sitting, by gently rotating the feet, for example.