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Can deep vein thrombosis be prevented?

Introduction

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a condition where a blood clot (thrombosis) is formed in the deep veins of the body. This article will be focusing on the treatment options available for patients of deep vein thrombosis, such as oral medications, surgical options and preventive measures that can be taken.

DVT treatment typically has three objectives, and your doctor may choose to focus on one or more of these areas:

  • Preventing enlargement of the clots
  • Preventing clots from breaking loose and travelling to the lungs (resulting in a pulmonary embolism)
  • Reducing the chances of developing another DVT

What oral medications can I take to treat DVT?

Illustration of pills

The most common method of treating deep vein thrombosis is through oral medications, such as blood thinners or anticoagulants. Most of the anticoagulants such as warfarin and dabigatran can be taken orally, but there are other medications that require the use of an intravenous (IV) line or injections. These medications help to prevent the formation of blood clots, and are typically given to patients who have previously developed deep vein thrombosis, or are at high risk of developing blood clots.

Anticoagulants can result in side effects such as passing blood in your stool or urine, severe bruising, prolonged nosebleeds, bleeding gums, vomiting blood or heavy periods in women. Pregnant women or women trying to conceive should generally avoid anticoagulants.

Before taking any medications for deep vein thrombosis, it is important to seek your doctor's advice and prescriptions, and to let your doctor know if you have any pre-existing medical conditions.

Other medications

Thrombolytics, or clot busters may be prescribed if the deep vein thrombosis has reached a dangerous stage, or if the patient has developed a pulmonary embolism. These drugs are typically given either through an intravenous (IV) line, or through a catheter that is inserted directly into the clot. However, this treatment may put the patient at risk of severe and heavy bleeding, and hence should only be used as a last resort.

Surgical options

What are the surgeries that treat deep vein thrombosis?

There are three main surgical procedures used to treat deep vein thrombosis.

Thrombectomy

Diagram of a blood clot in the blood vessel

In a thrombectomy, your doctor will make an incision in the blood vessel directly above the clot to remove it. In some cases, your doctor may leave a tube called a stent in the vein or artery in order to help keep it open and thereby ensure that blood will be able to flow through your body. Sometimes, your doctor may also insert a catheter into a blood vessel located in your arm or groin and move it through the blood vessels to reach the blood clot.

Prior to the surgery, your doctor will inject a contrast dye into your blood vessels and may use tests such as an ultrasound, venogram, arteriogram or a computed tomography (CT) scan to help locate the clot. In most cases, this clot has to be extremely large for your doctor to choose to do a thrombectomy. While a thrombectomy should be able to help remove the blood clot, it is unable to completely prevent new blood clots from developing or forming.

Catheter-Directed Thrombolysis

Catheter-directed thrombolysis is typically used to dissolve, rather than remove, the blood clot. Your doctor will use an X-ray camera and contrast dye that has been inserted into your blood vessels through a catheter to accurately determine the location of your blood clot. Next, your doctor will either use the catheter to apply clot-dissolving medications to the blood clot or use a small mechanical device to help remove the clot.

Do discuss the risks of this procedure with your doctor, as sometimes the catheter may not be able to make it to the clot or when the tissue damaged by the lack of blood flow is unable to be repaired.

Inferior Vena Cava (IVC) Filter Placement

Diagram of an inferior vena cava filter placed in the inferior vena cava

The inferior vena cava (IVC) filter is a miniature instrument that your doctor places in the inferior vena cava to prevent clots from embolizing to the heart or lungs and forming a pulmonary embolism. During the procedure, your doctor will insert a catheter (holding a collapsed IVC filter) to locate the blood clot, before expanding the filter such that it is able to attach to the blood vessel walls and therefore keep the blood vessel open.

In some cases, doctors may leave this filter in your body permanently, while sometimes the filter will be removed after a while.

How can I prevent deep vein thrombosis?

While the above methods may be effective at treating deep vein thrombosis, these methods are unable to completely prevent the development of deep vein thrombosis or other related blood clots.

Hence, in order to prevent the development of deep vein thrombosis, patients can use the following methods:

  • Quit smoking
  • Lower your blood pressure and regulate weight
  • Refrain from sitting from extended periods of time
  • Refrain from wearing tight-fitting clothes when travelling for extended periods
  • Exercise regularly
  • Wear compression stockings, particularly if on bed rest
  • Drink lots of fluids

For more information or if you require a medical consultation, please contact My Healthcare Collective here.