Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is the formation of a blood clot, know as a thrombus, in the deep leg vein. It is a very serious condition that can cause permanent damage to the leg, known as post-thrombotic syndrome, or a life-threatening pulmonary embolism. In the United States alone, 600,000 new cases are diagnosed each year. One in every 100 people who develops DVT dies. Recently, it has been referred to as “Economy Class Syndrome” due to the occurrence after sitting on long flights.
Early in treatment, blood thinners are given to keep the clot from growing or breaking off and traveling to the lung and causing a life-threatening pulmonary embolism by blocking the oxygen supply, causing heart failure. Contrary to popular belief, blood thinners (anticoagulants) do not actively dissolve the clot, but instead prevent new clots from forming. Over time, the body will dissolve the clot, but often the vein becomes damaged in the meantime.
Post-thrombotic syndrome is an under-recognized, but relatively common aftereffect of DVT, where patients develop irreversible damage in the affected leg veins and their valves, resulting in abnormal pooling of blood in the leg, chronic leg pain, fatigue, swelling, and in extreme cases, severe skin ulcers. To prevent permanent leg damage, patients can receive catheter-directed thrombolysis treatment.