Venous Thromboembolism

What is Venous Thromboembolism?

Venous thromboembolism (VTE) is a blood clot that forms in a vein and can break off and travel in the bloodstream. It is a serious medical condition that can lead to stroke, heart attack, and even death. VTE is often caused by a decrease in circulation that occurs when a blood clot forms in a deep vein (called deep vein thrombosis or DVT). The clot can break off and travel in the bloodstream, resulting in a pulmonary embolism, which is a blockage of an artery in the lung. VTE is treatable, but it is important to identify the risk factors and understand the symptoms so that it can be identified and treated quickly.

Risk Factors for Venous Thromboembolism

There are several factors that can increase the risk of developing VTE. These include being older than 60, being overweight or obese, smoking, a personal or family history of VTE, long periods of inactivity, a recent surgery or hospital stay, taking hormone therapy or birth control, chronic diseases, such as cancer and heart disease, and recent travel.

Symptoms & Diagnosis of Venous Thromboembolism

  • Pain or tenderness in the leg
  • Swelling in the leg or arm
  • Redness or discoloration in the leg
  • Increased warmth in the affected area
  • Shortness of breath, chest pain, or coughing up blood (may indicate a pulmonary embolism)

If VTE is suspected, a health care provider may order a x-ray or CT scan, ultrasound, or venography (an imaging test of the veins). A blood test may also be done to look for signs of a clot in the veins.

Treatment of Venous Thromboembolism

VTE is generally treated with anticoagulant medication, also known as a blood thinner. These medications interfere with blood clot formation and help dissolve existing clots. Additional treatments may be needed, depending on the severity of VTE, and these may include medications to dissolve clots, filter to keep clots from entering the bloodstream, and surgical removal of clots.

Prevention of Venous Thromboembolism

Preventing VTE is important and can be done by following a few simple steps:

  • Stay active and do low-impact exercises, such as walking, to increase blood circulation.
  • Wear loose, comfortable clothing to reduce leg swelling.
  • Eat a healthy diet and maintain a healthy weight.
  • If prescribed, take anticoagulant medications as directed.
  • If hospitalized, wear compression stockings and take walks around the hospital to increase blood flow.

By understanding VTE and taking action to prevent it, you can help reduce your risk of developing this serious medical condition.