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Deep Vein Thrombosis

What Complications Can Occur

Last updated on:
14/06/2012

Contributing Author: Guy Slowik FRCS

Fortunately, most cases of deep vein thrombosis improve with treatment. However, DVT can result in serious complications.

Pulmonary embolism

Chronic venous insufficiency

Pulmonary Embolism

The most serious complication of DVT occurs when a clot becomes dislodged from a vein, travels to the lung, and blocks or partially blocks the pulmonary artery leading from the heart to the lungs. This condition is called pulmonary embolism.

If the clot is small, only one or more portions of the lung may be deprived of blood and damaged. This condition can result in:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain with breathing
  • Bloody sputum (material coughed up from the lungs)

If a blood clot blocks the pulmonary artery, pulmonary embolism can be fatal due to the inability of blood to circulate through the lungs.

Vigorous treatment is immediately begun with blood-thinning drugs, oxygen and other medications depending on the situation.

Multiple and repeated emboli can lead to chronic impairment of blood circulation through the lungs and cause a form of heart failure.

Chronic venous insufficiency

Long-term DVT can degenerate the valves in veins that control blood flow.

This may result in swelling of the leg and ankle and skin disorders, such as dermatitis (inflammation of the skin) and ulcers (open sores).

Need To Know:

If you know you have DVT or have had a recent surgery, go to the emergency room immediately if you experience chest pain, difficulty breathing, fainting, loss of consciousness, or other severe symptoms.

Nice To Know:

Q. Can DVT lead to amputation?

A. Most cases of amputation associated with blood clots involve clots of the arteries. Such clots prevent the flow of blood to tissues beyond the blockage, causing tissue death (necrosis). Rare instances of amputation associated with deep vein thrombosis occur in individuals with "blue leg" (phlegmasia cerulea dolens), in which there is a massive venous thrombosis of the upper leg as well as an advanced malignancy (cancer) elsewhere in the body.

 

 
 

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From Andrew Maynard - Chair of the University of Michigan Department of Environmental Health Sciences, with help from David Faulkner - 2013 Master of Public Health graduate.