Treating Deep Vein Thrombosis
The term venous thromboembolism (VTE) is used to describe two conditions, deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism (PE). They use the term VTE because the two conditions are very closely related, and because their prevention and treatment are closely related.
DVT is a condition in which a blood clot or thrombus forms in a deep vein. These blood clots are most common in the leg. But one may develop in the arm or another part of the body. Part of the clot (embolus) can separate from the vein and travel to the lungs. This is called a pulmonary embolism. This can cut off the flow of blood to the lung. It is a medical emergency and may cause death.
Over time a blood clot can also harm veins. To protect your health, blood clots must be treated right away.
Treating DVT at home or in the hospital
A blood clot is treated with blood thinner medicines called anticoagulants. These medicines prevent more blood clots from forming. A blood clot is often treated at home. But your healthcare provider may have reasons to treat you in the hospital. It depends on your risks. It also depends on how severe your blood clot is and where it is.
Getting back to your regular activities as soon as possible helps to keep blood flowing. But your healthcare provider may want you to limit your activity for a period of time. Talk with him or her about what level of activity is right for you.
Your healthcare provider will usually prescribe an anticoagulant to treat your blood clot. This is medicine that prevents blood clots. You take it by mouth (oral), by injection, or into a vein (intravenous or IV). Commonly used anticoagulants include warfarin and heparin. Other anticoagulants may also be used, including rivaroxaban, apixaban, dabigatran and enoxaparin. Make sure to take your anticoagulant exactly as directed.
If you are prescribed warfarin, it is important that you have regular blood tests as prescribed. Make sure you keep all appointments for lab tests, so that your healthcare provider knows whether to adjust your dosage. If you don't, you may not be getting the full benefit of the medicine or it may increase the risk of bleeding.
Other treatment includes the following:
Your healthcare provider may prescribe special elastic (compression) stockings. These help the blood flow in your veins. The gentle pressure on the leg helps prevent blood from pooling and forming blood clots.
When you are sitting or lying down, put your legs up on a pillow. Move your ankle and toes to help the blood flow.
You may need medicine to help relieve pain. Your healthcare provider will discuss these choices with you.
You may have a medical procedure for your blood clot. Procedures include:
Thrombolysis. A thin tube (catheter) is used to deliver medicine to break up the clot. A device may also be used to break up the clot.
Angioplasty. This may be done after a clot is removed to help the blood flow better in the vein. A catheter with a balloon on the end is used to widen a vein. A tiny mesh tube (stent) may be placed to keep a vein open.
Inferior vena cava filter placement. A small cone-shaped device is put in the inferior vena cava. The vena cava is the body's largest vein. The filter prevents a blood clot from traveling to your lungs. The filter is inserted into the vein through a catheter. This procedure may be done if blood thinners cannot be taken or if they don't work.
When to call your healthcare provider
Call your healthcare provider if you have the following symptoms:
Pain, swelling, and redness in the leg, arm, or other area. They may mean a blood clot
Blood in the urine
Bleeding with bowel movements
Very dark or tar-like stool
Vomiting with blood
Coughing up blood
Bleeding from a cut that will not stop
Call 911 if you have the following symptoms. They may mean a blood clot in the lungs.
Call 911 if you have heavy or uncontrolled bleeding. Blood-thinning medicines increase the risk of bleeding.