Deep vein thrombosis: a rapid response for a life-threatening clot

March 06, 2018 | by Andrew S. Blum, M.D.
Categories: Healthy Driven Life

If you’ve just had surgery, have been sick and lying in bed for a prolonged period, have been traveling on a long trip, or are pregnant you are at an increased risk of developing blood clots in your veins.

When blood thickens and clots within a vein deep inside your body, usually in your leg, this is a condition known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

While some people with DVT have no symptoms, others may experience (from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute):

  • Swelling of the leg or along a vein in the leg
  • Pain or tenderness in the leg, which you may feel only when standing or walking
  • Increased warmth in the area of the leg that's swollen or painful
  • Red or discolored skin on the leg

If the clot in the vein breaks free and travels to an artery in the lungs where it becomes lodged and blocks the flow of blood, the patient suffers a pulmonary embolism (PE). Sometimes the symptoms of a pulmonary embolism are the first signs someone has a deep vein thrombosis. Those symptoms can include:

  • Unexplained shortness of breath
  • Pain with deep breathing
  • Coughing up blood
  • Rapid breathing and a fast heart rate

The majority of patients with a pulmonary embolism receive blood thinning medication. For larger clots, however, this isn’t always effective treatment, as blood thinners such as heparin and Coumadin help prevent the spread of clots, but do not break up or dissolve them. These large clots can be life threatening. For these patients past efforts at infusing powerful blood clot dissolving agents through an intravenous catheter were found to be better at dissolving clot, but unfortunately were often associated with serious bleeding complications.

Now, when people are in danger of dying from a large blood clot, interventional radiologists or cardiologists are able to insert a catheter into the artery of the lung and dissolve the clot by directly delivering the clot busting drug.

In order to make the best decision for each individual patient, when someone comes to the emergency room with a large pulmonary embolism at Elmhurst Hospital or Edward Hospital, the respective multidisciplinary PE Response Team goes into action. This rapid response team includes experts from pulmonary critical care, interventional radiology and cardiology, working together to come up with the best plan to treat the clot.

“The rapid response team has been a major contribution to care provided at our facility through heightened coordination and providing expedited care for patients who have massive or submassive pulmonary embolism who qualify for more aggressive interventions,” says Dr. Phillip Cozzi, a pulmonologist with Elmhurst Memorial Elmhurst Clinic.

There are ways to reduce your risk of DVT. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers these prevention tips:

  • Move around as soon as possible after having been confined to bed, such as after a surgery, illness or injury
  • If you’re at risk for DVT, talk to your doctor about:
    • Compression devices, especially if you are in the hospital
    • Medication (anticoagulants) to prevent DVT
  • When sitting for long periods of time, such as when traveling for more than four hours:
    • Get up and walk around every 2 to 3 hours
    • Exercise your legs while you’re sitting by:
      • Raising and lowering your heels while keeping your toes on the floor
      • Raising and lowering your toes while keeping your heels on the floor
    • Tighten and release your leg muscles
    • Wear loose-fitting clothes
  • Reduce your risk by maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active, and following your doctor’s recommendations based on your individual risk profile.

Interventional radiologists work with the smallest of instruments to treat the biggest of health problems. Learn more about Interventional Radiology at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

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