Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) and How Compression Therapy Can Help

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a condition in which a blood clot forms in one of the deep veins. Clots can occur in any part of the body, but most often form in the thigh or lower leg. Graduated compression stockings can relieve the symptoms of DVT and lower your risk of developing later complications.

How DVT occurs

When your skin gets cut, the blood that leaks out of the wound will thicken to form a blood clot that helps stop the bleeding. Clots can also form inside your veins. When this occurs in a deep vein—further from the skin—it is called deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

If a blood clot in the leg breaks free from the wall of the vein, the clot can flow to your lungs and become wedged in an artery. This is called a pulmonary embolism, a potentially life-threatening condition.

The causes of DVT include:

  • Damage to the inner lining of the vein, such as from surgery, inflammation, serious injuries or the body’s immune response.
  • Slow or sluggish blood flow in the vein. This can happen after surgery, if you are sitting or lying still for a long time, or if you have vein disease that causes the blood to collect in the veins.
  • Other conditions that make your blood thicker or more likely to clot. Some of these are inherited conditions, but birth control pills and hormone therapy can also increase the risk of clotting.

Graduated compression stockings for DVT

Up to half of people who have been treated for deep vein thrombosis develop another condition called post-thrombotic syndrome (PTS). This serious condition can cause aching, pain, swelling, itching and skin discoloration in the affected leg. In some cases, slow- or non-healing wounds (ulcers) may form.

Doctors are not exactly sure what causes PTS, but think it may be due to ongoing inflammation and damage caused by the blood clot. There is no cure for PTS, so your best option is to prevent it from happening.

Graduated compression stockings are the main way to prevent PTS. These apply pressure to the leg to help push blood in the veins toward the heart. The stockings are tightest around the ankles and gradually looser toward the knee and thigh.

Stockings are usually worn for two years after treatment is started for DVT. Some studies have shown that this can reduce your risk of developing PTS by up to 50 percent. Graduated compression stockings may also reduce symptoms of DVT, such as swelling.

If you have DVT, your doctor will talk with you about whether graduated compression stockings are a good choice for you. Stockings come in varying “strengths” that apply different amount of pressure. They are available as thigh-high or knee-high stockings. Your doctor will let you know which is the most appropriate type for you.

Other treatment options for DVT

Several treatments are available for deep vein thrombosis. The main goal of these treatments is to prevent the blood clot from getting bigger or breaking off and moving to your lungs. Treatments also reduce the chance that another blood clot will form.

Treatments for DVT include:

  • Anticoagulants, also known as blood thinners. These medicines keep existing blood clots from getting bigger and make it harder for new clots to form. However, they won’t break apart any blood clots that you already have. Warfarin and heparin are the most commonly used anticoagulants.
  • Thrombin inhibitors. These medicines slow down the formation of new blood clots.
  • Thrombolytics. These medicines quickly break apart large blood clots.
  • Vena cava filter. This filter is inserted inside a large vein to catch blood clots so they don’t travel to the lungs. It won’t stop new clots from forming.
  • Graduated compression stockings. These special stockings apply pressure to the legs to help blood flow toward the heart. They reduce symptoms that occur after DVT, such as swelling.

Updated Oct. 13, 2017

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