You may have heard the term DVT but are not sure what is DVT? DVT stands for deep vein thrombosis.
March is Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) awareness month, an initiative that has been running to increase public awareness of this common medical condition. We decided to write an article to coincide with this.
Each year DVT will affect roughly 1 in every 1000 people in the UK. In this article our focus will be on helping you to understand what a DVT will present like, how to recognise it and what to do about it. If it can help you recognise it in yourself or someone you know then that’s a great opportunity to literally save their life! So read on to make sure you are ready…
What is a DVT?
DVT’s occur when a blood clot (thrombus) forms in one of the deep veins, most often in the leg, resulting in partially or completely blocked circulation.
What is a DVT: Signs and Symptoms?
An awareness of signs and symptoms is essential to enable a DVT to be treated early. In our experience these can include:
- An area of swelling, usually in one leg
- Leg pain or tenderness
- Red or bluish skin discoloration
- Leg can be warm to touch
What does DVT look like? How to Recognise It
What does DVT pain feel like?
The unfortunate thing about DVT is that it can be symptomless. The pain associated with DVT is often described as throbbing or cramping, deep and constant.
How is DVT diagnosed?
In the clinic, your physio (or other healthcare practitioner) should be using the Wells Criteria for DVT if they suspect a DVT. This is a validated screening tool for DVT risk.
The Wells Criteria uses 10 questions; the first 9 are risk factors that score 1 point each and the 10th criteria is if an alternative diagnosis is more likely. This is usually if the individual has been playing sport and strained the calf in activity. This would deduct 2 points from the overall score. A score of 3 or more puts you in a high risk group with DVT ‘likely’ in this case.
If a physiotherapist suspects a DVT, they can speak urgently to your doctor in the hospital for a review. There are then 3 options for your GP to choose from for accurate diagnosis. These are:
- D-dimer Test
This may be the first port of call if you have NOT had a recent injury or operation or are pregnant. In these instances, the test is often not that reliable. The test is a simple blood test that looks for pieces of blood clot broken off and circulating through your blood. The more picked up in the test the more likely it is you have a clot.
- Ultrasound Scan
If you have had a recent injury/operation or are pregnant then the next option avilable to your GP is to refer you for an ultrasound scan. The scan used for DVT is called a Doppler scan. This type of ultrasound scan can measure blood flow helping the examiner to identify areas where flow is reduced or lost, indicating there may be a clot.
If the results of the other two tests are inconclusive. The third option for your GP is a Venogram. This uses a dye injected into the foot. When an x-ray is then taken, due to the contrast that the dye produces, it can identify gaps in the blood flow indicating a clot.
How is DVT treated?
Once it has been confirmed by a doctor you will likely start a course of medication known as anticoagulants. An anticoagulant will inhibit the blood’s ability to clot, therefore reducing the risk of existing clots getting larger.
DVT Risks – Pulmonary Embolism
In some cases a DVT can travel to the lung. This is known as a Pulmonary Embolism (PE). Signs and symptoms of this include:
- Sudden shortness of breath
- Chest pain-sharp, stabbing (may get worse with deep breath)
- Rapid heart rate (tachycardia)
- Unexplained cough, sometimes with bloody mucus
A scan called a CT pulmonary angiogram can be taken if a PE is suspected.
How Physio Helps Stop Dvt Post Surgery or When You Are Immobile
Physiotherapists work very closely with patients in hospital to prevent immobility, by promoting mobility and exercise of differing levels. Prolonged length of time in bed or a chair can put patients at a higher risk of DVT. Physiotherapists work with patients at risk of developing DVT, particularly those who have been immobile for some time through illness and those who have had major surgery, such as a knee or hip replacement.
Exercise can range from movements in the bed, if for a medical reason a patient is not allowed out of bed, up to walking and exercising outdoors or in the hospital gym.
Hopefully you now have a better understanding of what is DVT. How to recognise it and diagnose it. If you are concerned that you have signs and symptoms of a DVT you should seek medical advice as soon as possible.