Getting to know deep vein thrombosis (DVT)

It is elusive and masquerades as other diseases. That is how Associate Professor Lee Lai Heng, Senior Consultant, Department of Haematology, Singapore General Hospital (SGH), a member of the SingHealth group,describes deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Deep vein thrombosis is also commonly associated with long-haul flights and popularly known as economy class syndrome.

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) symptoms

Pain, swelling and redness of the legs are some symptoms of DVT. But these symptoms can indicate other illnesses, from simple infections to more serious ones like heart failure and kidney diseases. DVT is also difficult to detect, especially in its mild form. A condition in which a blood clot forms in a major vein, DVT can become serious and even life-threatening if a piece of the clot breaks off and travels to the arteries in the lungs.

Prof Lee said that because it may go undetected for a while, “reports of DVT can be very dramatic. For instance, when someone suddenly dies after a flight”. While DVT can happen to anyone, anywhere, the condition is actually quite rare in healthy individuals (who are not hospitalised). This is because the body is able to naturally dissolve blood clots that result from injury.

Who is at risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT)?

“In the first place, people who do get DVT are likely to have some risk factors that make them more susceptible to the condition. They may not be moving very much because of injury, osteoarthritis, or a recent recovery from a debilitating illness,” says Prof Lee.

People who are on oral contraceptives or hormone therapy, are pregnant, have a family history of the condition, who suffer from cancer or are undergoing cancer treatment are also at higher risk of developing DVT. “Some cancer cells release substances that promote clotting,” said Prof Lee. Some cancer treatments also increase the chance of developing DVT.

DVT mostly occurs in the lower limbs, usually the calves, although blood clots can form anywhere in the body, including the brain and the abdomen. Clots in those areas are rare and can have serious consequences.

Patients in hospitals are usually regarded as being at risk of developing DVT, in part because they are likely to be moving little and lying in bed for extended periods.

During surgery, their veins may be injured, which will also lead to blood clotting.

Read on for the diagnosis and treatment of deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

Ref: Q15