Overview on venous thromboembolism

Venous thromboembolism is a blood clot that originates in a vein. It is considered as one of the leading diagnosis after a stroke and heart attack.

What are the types?

  • Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) – is a clot in a deep vein, usually in the leg but oftentimes in the arm or other veins.
  • Pulmonary embolism – this form when a DVT clot breaks loose from the vein wall and moves to the lungs and obstructs some or the entire blood supply. The clots that form in the thigh are expected to break free and move to the lungs than the clots in the lower leg or other body parts.

    Deep vein thrombosis generally involves the large-sized veins found in the inferior leg and thigh, generally on one flank of the body at a time.

Venous thromboembolism is quite common among adults 60 and older but can develop at any age.

What are the warning indications?

Deep vein thrombosis generally involves the large-sized veins found in the inferior leg and thigh, generally on one flank of the body at a time. A clot can block the blood flow and cause the following:

  • Leg pain or tenderness of the calf or thigh
  • Leg swelling or edema
  • Reddened discoloration or streaks
  • Warmth of the skin

Pulmonary embolism can be deadly and arises if the DVT breaks free from a vein wall and obstructs partially or the entire blood supply to the lungs resulting to:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Unexplained shortness of breath
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Chest pain on any part beneath the rib cage
  • Lightheadedness or passing out

Management of venous thromboembolism

Venous thromboembolism requires prompt medical care. An early diagnosis and immediate treatment can often lead to recovery but long-term complications might arise.

The treatment generally involves blood thinning medications to prevent the clots from forming and oftentimes potent clot-busters to break up any clots. The commonly used options include:

  • Anticoagulants including heparin or low molecular weight heparin or even tablets such as warfarin, dabigatran and apixaban. These medications are usually taken for several months. If venous thromboembolism occurred after a trauma, surgery, hospitalization, pregnancy or using hormonal treatments, the drugs are given for a specific length.
  • Thrombolytic therapy includes tissue plasminogen activator which is an enzyme that dissolves clots. This is administered via a vein in the arm or by administering catheters straight into the blood clot via a vein or lung.

In some cases, surgery might be done. A procedure might involve the placement of a filter in the largest vein in the body (inferior vena cava) to prevent blood clots from moving into the lungs. In another procedure, it involves the removal of the large blood clot from the vein or injecting a clot-busting drug into the vein or lung artery.


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