Safer way to dissolve dangerous clots

April 7, 2010 8:59:06 AM PDT
While arteries are responsible for bringing blood from the heart to the rest of the body, veins do the opposite. They return blood back to the heart.

There are three types of veins: superficial veins lie close to the skin, deep veins lie within groups of muscles and perforating veins connect the superficial veins to the deep veins. Deep veins connect to the body's largest vein -- the vena cava -- which runs directly to the heart. When a blood clot forms in one of the deep veins, a potentially life-threatening condition called deep vein thrombosis (DVT) develops. The condition most commonly occurs in the pelvis, thigh or calf, according to the Society for Vascular Surgery.

DVT becomes dangerous when the blood clot breaks free from the vein and travels through the bloodstream to the lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism. An embolism can block blood flow in the lungs, causing a strain on both the heart and lungs. A large pulmonary embolism can be fatal.

SYMPTOMS: It's sometimes difficult for patients to recognize the symptoms of DVT, and about half of all cases don't cause any symptoms. Signs to watch out for include swelling and tenderness in the leg, leg pain that worsens when walking or standing, a sensation of warmth and skin that turns blue or red. Experts say you are at higher risk for DVT when you aren't able to move for long periods of time such as in a hospital bed. This causes blood to pool and form clots. Other risks include obesity, history of heart attack and pregnancy.

TREATMENT: The most common medications used in the treatment of DVT are blood thinners like warfarin and heparin. Blood thinners are often administered by injection at first, followed by treatment in pill form for three to six months. The most common side effect of this type of treatment is bleeding, which can be life-threatening. Compression stockings are another therapy administered to reduce swelling and prevent blood from pooling and clotting in the leg. For serious cases of DVT, surgeons sometimes perform thrombolysis. During the procedure, a vascular surgeon uses a catheter to inject drugs directly into the clot to dissolve it. In another procedure called venous thrombectomy, surgeons completely remove the clot.

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Jennifer Roberts
Florida Hospital Media Relations
Orlando, FL