When an individual is diagnosed with a blood clot, fear is one of the first emotions that run through the mind. Let’s be frank… the word “blood clot” sounds frightening. A quick search on Dr. Google returns over 7 million results and trying to figure out which information is correct is mind-boggling! This is the first part of a series of blog posts that will very simply describe what a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is, the signs and symptoms of DVT, and its diagnosis and treatment.
Location, Location, Location
First and foremost, it is important to understand where a blood clot is located since not all blood clots are the same. Many people confuse veins and arteries and do not really understand the difference between the two types of blood vessels. Arteries carry oxygen-rich blood away from the heart to the various parts of the body (i.e. arms, legs, brain). Veins, on the other hand, drain the body and carry oxygen-poor blood back to the heart and lungs. Blood clots that occur in arteries can lead to life-threatening conditions such as a stroke, heart attack, or loss of blood supply to an organ. Blood clots that occur in veins, on the other hand, are generally not life threatening unless they travel to the lungs.
What is DVT?
There are two sets of veins in the arms and legs: the superficial veins and the deep veins. When one develops a blood clot in a superficial vein in the arm or leg, this is known as a superficial thrombophlebitis. Varicose veins, spider veins, or the veins that you see on the surface of your hands are examples of superficial veins. Superficial thrombophlebitis usually heals by itself but may require a warm compress, pain medication (e.g. ibuprofen/Advil), and in rare cases blood thinning medication.
When a blood clot develops in the deep veins of an arm or leg, this is known as a deep vein thrombosis or DVT (click here for link to video). Deep veins are deep within the body and cannot be seen like superficial veins. DVT is a very serious condition that must be treated immediately. If ignored, a DVT can break up into pieces and travel to the lungs causing a pulmonary embolism or PE (click here for link to video). A PE can lead to death (sometimes sudden death) but if diagnosed early can be treated with blood thinning medicine.
Hopefully you now have a better understanding of what DVT is, why only certain blood clots are called DVT, and why it’s important to seek treatment immediately if you are having symptoms of DVT. I will discuss the signs and symptoms of DVT in my next blog post.