What Causes Blood Clots and Deep Vein Thrombosis?

From Miami Heat player Chris Bosh to Mirza Teletovic of the Brooklyn Nets, athletes sometimes show up in the news with blood clot conditions that are sending them off the courts and into the hospital.

While everyday people aren’t typically faced with the harsh training and injuries that athletes sustain, deep vein thrombosis (DVT), or a blood clot deep in the veins, can happen to anyone.

Anthony J. Comerota, MD, FACS, director of Jobst Vascular Institute at ProMedica Toledo Hospital provides his expertise about the basics of DVT – from what it is to how you can prevent it.

What is DVT?

Deep vein thrombosis is blood clotting in the deep veins. Although it can occur in the arms, the majority of individuals who have DVT develop it in the deep veins of legs, which are veins running close to bones and in muscles.

What are the symptoms?

The typical signs and symptoms are pain and swelling of the leg due to the blockage of the vein by the blood clot, however, some patients have no symptoms. The danger in those patients is that the blood clot goes untreated and it may break off and travel through the heart into the lungs. That is called pulmonary embolism, which is a dangerous condition if left untreated and it can be fatal.

How is it caused and who’s at risk?

There are a number of risk factors that lead to DVT. Among them are trauma, medical illnesses that may require bed rest or immobility, surgical procedures, cancer, increasing age, birth control pills, and a family history of blood clots.

People most at risk include trauma patients and those undergoing major pelvic operations, orthopaedic operations and cancer procedures. Traveling a long distance in a confined area can also put a person at risk. If you sit for long periods of time for travel or for your job, be sure to exercise your feet to keep healthy circulation. In a confined area, move your foot up and down to contract the calf muscle. Getting up and walking every one to two hours is an effective way to keep your blood moving back to the heart and reduce your risk of a clot.

What are the treatments for DVT?

Standard treatment for most blood clots is anticoagulation, or blood-thinners. There are a number of new blood thinners that have come on the market in the last two years that are changing the way we manage blood clots. New oral anticoagulants (NOACs) do not require monitoring with a blood test and have very little, if any, food or drug interaction. For many patients with extensive blood clots, we suggest that the clot be removed or dissolved, usually using catheter-based techniques, before prescribing long-term anticoagulation.

Are you at risk for DVT or vascular disease? View our risk checklist now.