Every year, thousands of people in the UK develop a blood clot in a vein. It’s known as venous thromboembolism (VTE) and is a serious, potentially fatal, medical condition.
VTE is the collective name for:
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) – a blood clot in in one of the deep veins in the body, usually in one of the legs
Pulmonary embolism – a blood clot in the blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to the lungs
Although serious, most blood clots can be completely avoided. The key is to be aware if you’re at risk and take some simple preventative steps.
Deep Vein Thrombosis
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot that develops within a deep vein in the body, usually in the leg. Blood clots that develop in a vein are also known as venous thrombosis. DVT usually occurs in a deep leg vein, a larger vein that runs through the muscles of the calf and the thigh.
It can cause pain and swelling in the leg and may lead to complications such as pulmonary embolism. This is a serious condition that occurs when a piece of blood clot breaks off into the bloodstream and blocks one of the blood vessels in the lungs. DVT and pulmonary embolism together are known as venous thromboembolism (VTE).
Symptoms of DVT
In some cases, there may be no symptoms of DVT. If symptoms do occur they can include:
pain, swelling and tenderness in one of your legs (usually your calf)
a heavy ache in the affected area
warm skin in the area of the clot
red skin, particularly at the back of your leg below the knee
DVT usually (although not always) affects one leg. The pain may be worse when you bend your foot upward towards your knee.
If left untreated, about one in 10 people with a DVT will develop a pulmonary embolism. A pulmonary embolism is a very serious condition which causes:
breathlessness – which may come on gradually or suddenly
chest pain – which may become worse when you breathe in
Both DVT and pulmonary embolism require urgent investigation and treatment.
Seek immediate medical attention if you have pain, swelling and tenderness in your leg and you develop breathlessness and chest pain.
What causes DVT?
Each year, DVT affects around one person in every 1,000 in the UK.
Anyone can develop DVT, but it becomes more common over the age of 40. As well as age, there are also a number of other risk factors, including:
having a history of DVT or pulmonary embolism
having a family history of blood clots
being inactive for long periods – such as after an operation or during a long journey
blood vessel damage – a damaged blood vessel wall can result in the formation of a blood clot
having certain conditions or treatments that cause your blood to clot more easily than normal – such as cancer (including chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment), heart and lung disease, thrombophilia and Hughes syndrome
being pregnant – your blood also clots more easily during pregnancy
being overweight or obese
The combined contraceptive pill and hormone replacement therapy (HRT) both contain the female hormone oestrogen, which causes the blood to clot more easily. If you’re taking either of these, your risk of developing DVT is slightly increased.
For more information on thrombosis and haemostasis please do not hesitate to get in touch with Dr Shafeek through our appointments page.