A deep vein thrombosis, or DVT, is a blood clot that becomes lodged in a large vein deep within a person’s body. While they are often thought of as leg clots, DVTs can actually occur anywhere in the peripheral areas of your body. DVTs are common, and treatable, but are also accompanied by a number of dangers that you may not be aware of. While developing DVT is not always dangerous by itself, the formation of a clot is not normal, and has the potential to escalate. It may be a harbinger of more serious cardiopulmonary events, such as a pulmonary embolism. Here are a few reasons why DVT can present as dangerous.
They hurt…a lot
DVT causes tissue damage within the blood vessels that they occlude. This can cause thrombophlebitis, or inflammation of the lining of blood vessels, to occur. Phlebitis is painful, swollen, and hot to the touch. Even after the DVT has begun to be reabsorbed by the body, the pain can linger for weeks. If the offending clot was very large, pain and swelling can persist even longer, and permanent damage to the blood vessel can occur.
They are an indication of a hypercoagulable state
If you develop the symptoms of a DVT somewhere in your body, never ignore it or attempt to treat it at home. Blood clots are common after trauma or surgeries, in people who are immobile, or in people who have a genetically inherited clotting disorder. The formation of a large blood clot is an indication of a hypercoagulable state, which means that the delicate blood clotting system has been activated and is highly sensitive. Having a DVT means that you are imminently at risk for clots elsewhere in the body, and you must be put on blood thinners immediately, not only to prevent thrombosis but also to inhibit the growth of the one you have. If left untreated, blood clots can continue to gather in size, quickly worsening your condition.
They can break off and move
This is absolutely the most dangerous complication that can be caused by a deep vein thrombosis. Because the clot is in a vein, the flow of the blood from that area is up the leg, through the chambers of the heart, and into the pulmonary arteries where it goes to exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen. The network of blood vessels narrows continuously, so any piece of the embolism that breaks off from the within the leg will lodge in a pulmonary artery, a frightening medical emergency known as pulmonary embolism, or PE. PEs can cause shortness of breath, a sudden decrease in oxygen levels, scarring and lung damage, chronic lung pain, and even sudden death. In fact, approximately 60,000 to 100,000 people die annually in the US from complications associated with DVTs and PEs, many within the first month of diagnosis. According to the CDC, in a quarter of all cases of pulmonary embolism, death is the first and only symptom.
If you suspect that you may have developed DVT, seek medical help immediately. A thrombus of any kind is an indication of a medical emergency, and only prompt treatment can stop or reverse the potential threats it can impose.