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Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT): Not Just Something You Get From Long Flights

Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT): Not Just Something You Get From Long Flights
Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT): Not Just Something You Get From Long Flights

What Is A DVT

A deep vein thrombosis (DVT) occurs when a blood clot (thrombus) forms in one or more of the deep veins in your body, usually in your legs. The clot may block a blood vessel, causing potentially serious health effects. Deep vein thrombosis can cause leg pain or swelling, but may occur without any symptoms.

Causes Of Deep Vein Thrombosis

A deep vein thrombosis can occur as the result of a number of medical conditions and the risk of suffering a DVT can be affected by multiple risk factors too.
Medical conditions that affect how your blood clots will increase your risk of developing a DVT but they can also happen if you don’t move for a long time too seeing as when your legs are still for long periods, your calf muscles don’t contract helping blood circulate, which can increase the risk of having blood clots. This is a big reason why long haul flights may contribute to the risk of DVT sometimes called ‘economy-class syndrome’ however the evidence is currently divided on long distance flights being a cause of deep vein thrombosis.

Some Risk factors Include:

  • Post surgery
  • Accident or injury
  • Being confined to bed rest
  • Being overweight
  • Cigarette smoking,
  • Pregnancy
  • High-dose combined oral contraceptive pill
  • Hormone therapy
  • Family history of DVT or previous thrombosis
  • Coronary heart disease

DVT: A Serious Condition

Deep vein thrombosis is a serious condition because blood clots in your veins can end up “breaking loose” and travel through your bloodstream lodging in the pulmonary artery, the main blood vessel to the lungs. If the clot is large enough, then it can completely block the artery and cause death. This blocking of blood flow a “pulmonary embolism” is a life-threatening complication of DVT which is why a deep vein thrombosis is considered a medical emergency. Meaning it is very important to get assessed quickly.

DVT Anatomy

Blood flow through your leg veins generally requires mechanical help, because the blood ‘flows’ up instead of down. Your calf muscle contracting help by acting as a pump, compressing the veins helping force the blood contained in these veins up towards the heart. This is further aided by valves in the veins, which help by directing the flow of blood and counteracting the effect of gravity. Anything that slows the flow of blood through the deep veins can cause DVT. This includes injury, surgery or long periods of sitting or lying.

Signs And Symptoms Of Deep Vein Thrombosis

  • Swelling in the affected leg (rarely, there may be swelling in both legs) typically swelling is of the lower leg, ankle and foot.
  • Pain and tenderness in the leg, the pain often starts in the calf and can feel like soreness or cramping.
  • Pain extending to the foot.
  • Skin that is red and warm.

Remember that a deep vein thrombosis may sometimes occur without any noticeable symptoms.

Warning Signs Of A Pulmonary Embolism

  • Feeling lightheaded or dizzy, or fainting.
  • Rapid pulse.
  • Unexplained sudden onset of shortness of breath.
  • Chest pain or discomfort that worsens when you take a deep breath or when you cough.
  • Coughing up blood.

As mentioned earlier a DVT is considered a medical emergency so seek medical attention immediately if you have any of the above signs or symptoms.

Tests for DVT

To diagnose a DVT will require a series of questions about your symptoms, a physical exam checking any areas of swelling, tenderness or discoloration on your skin then further testing may or may not be required. Common investigations for DVT include having:

  • An Ultrasound, via ultrasound a clot may be visible in the image. Ultrasound scans can also be used to determine if a blood clot is growing or if new clots have developed.
  • A Blood test, almost all people who develop severe deep vein thrombosis have an elevated blood level of a clot-dissolving substance called D dimer and a blood test will detect this.
  • Venography and CT or MRI scans are also sometimes used in the diagnosis and ongoing management of a deep vein thrombosis.

Treatment For DVT

Treatment is aimed at preventing the clot from getting any bigger, preventing the clot from breaking loose and causing a pulmonary embolism and reducing your chances of a DVT happening again.

DVT treatment typically includes:

  • Compression stockings worn from your feet to your knees help prevent swelling associated with deep vein thrombosis thus the graduated compression helps reduce the chances that your blood will pool and clot and have been found to decrease the risk of post-surgery DVT for hospital patients.
  • Blood thinners (anticoagulants) are drugs that decrease your blood’s ability to clot. They don’t actually break up existing blood clots, but they can prevent clots from getting bigger or reduce your risk of developing any additional clots.
  • Clotbusters (thrombolytics) are used to break up blood clots with more serious DVT’s, pulmonary embolism, or if other medications aren’t working.
  • Other treatment focuses on reducing risk factors such as quitting smoking, losing excess body fat…

Disclaimer: Sydney Physio Clinic does not endorse any treatments, procedures, products mentioned. This information is provided as an educational service and is not intended to serve as medical advice. Anyone seeking specific medical advice or assistance on Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT): Not Just Something You Get From Long Flights should consult his or her general practitioner or otherwise appropriately skilled practitioner. Remembering a DVT is considered a medical emergency!

Hayden Latimer is the founder of and principle physiotherapist at Sydney Physio Clinic. Since graduating from Otago University, Dunedin, New Zealand he’s gained wide experience practicing across the globe for over 15 years and is now extremely knowledgeable in helping people reduce discomfort and restore function and mobility.


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