- Venous thromboembolism (VTE) refers to two serious conditions: deep-vein
thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism (PE).
- Two million Americans each year develop deep-vein thrombosis (DVT).
- Deep-vein thrombosis involves the formation of a blood clot in one of the
large veins of the upper or lower limbs or pelvis. Blood clots form when circulation
to particular parts of the body is abnormally sluggish and/or damage to the
blood vessel has occurred. If the blood clot breaks free and travels through
the veins, it can reach the lungs, obstructing the pulmonary artery, or its
branches, which supply the lungs with blood. If the clot is large and completely
blocks a vessel, it can cause sudden death.
- It is estimated that 600,000 patients with deep-vein thrombosis develop
pulmonary embolism each year, with PE responsible for up to 200,000 deaths.
- According to the American College of Chest Physicians, fatal pulmonary embolism
may be the most preventable cause of hospital death.
- Blood clots in the lungs (pulmonary emboli) kill 200,000 people each year,
more than AIDS, breast cancer and highway accidents combined.
- Risk factors for developing blood clots include pregnancy, obesity, recent
surgery, chemotherapy treatment, estrogen use and prolonged immobilization.
- Risk factors for developing DVT include: acute medical illness; orthopedic,
lower extremities, or pelvic surgery; cancer or chemotherapy; chronic heart
or respiratory failure; inherited or acquired predisposition to clotting;
varicose veins; obesity; pregnancy; birth control pills; postmenopausal hormone
replacement therapy; advanced age; prolonged immobilization; and long-distance
- DVT commonly occurs in one leg. Symptoms may include tenderness, pain, swelling
and discoloration or redness. The pain caused by DVT may be a dull ache or
cramp in the leg that is severe or mild and is often aggravated by putting
weight on the leg. About half the time, though, the problem causes no symptoms.
- The signs of PE can range from a little shortness of breath to severe cardiopulmonary
- Anyone who experiences these symptoms (or any unusual symptoms) should immediately
seek medical attention. Fortunately, the medications that physicians use to
treat DVT may help to resolve the symptoms while preventing serious complications.
- Traditional treatments for DVT include bed rest, elevation of the affected
limb, use of compression stockings and drugs to prevent blood clotting.
- Anticoagulants, or blood-thinning drugs, work by altering the body's
normal blood-clotting process and may help to prevent PE. The most commonly
used anticoagulants are unfractionated heparin, low-molecular-weight heparin,
and warfarin sodium.
Dalen JE, Paraskos JA, Ockene IS, Alpert JF, Hirsh J. Venous thromboembolism:
scope of the problem. Chest 1986; 89 (suppl):370S-373S.
Clagett PG, Anderson FA, Heit J, Levine MN, Wheeler HB. Prevention of venous
thromboembolism. Fourth ACCP Consensus Conference on Antithrombotic Therapy.
Chest 1995; 108 (suppl 4):312S-334S.
Created: 3/18/2002  - Donnica Moore, M.D.