Venous thromboembolism (VTE) is a condition in which blood clots form deep within the legs (deep vein thrombosis)—these clots can eventually migrate to the lungs (pulmonary embolism). VTE leads to an estimated 60,000 to 100,000 deaths per year in the US alone.
Facts About VTE
Between 350,000 and 900,000 new cases of VTE are diagnosed during or after hospitalization each year in the US, with an additional 1 million estimated cases that don’t involve hospitalization. Death rates for patients with pulmonary embolism are between 30 and 60 percent, and death rates for patients with deep vein thrombosis are about 3 percent. Complications of VTE include pain, swelling, discoloration and ulcers.
Symptoms of VTE
VTE can be fatal without proper medical attention. Some signs of DVT include:
- Swelling, pain or tenderness in the leg
- Red streaks or discoloration
- Skin that feels warm to the touch
Possible signs of pulmonary embolisms include:
- Rapid heart rate
- Chest pain under the rib cage, which often gets worse when breathing deeply
- Shortness of breath without explanation
- Lightheadedness or loss of consciousness
- Accelerated breathing
Treating and Preventing VTE
When VTE symptoms are present, treatment usually involves blood-thinning medication to help prevent blood clots. Treatment options include
- Anticoagulants: These are medications used over a period of months, and can be found in multiple forms: injectables or tablets. When VTE is caused by a specific precursor like surgery, trauma, pregnancy or a visit to the hospital, an anticoagulant is usually prescribed.
- Thrombolytic therapy: This includes the use of drugs, such as tissue plasminogen activators, that help dissolve blood clots.
- Surgery: In some cases, surgery may be needed to prevent blood clots from reaching the lung or to remove a large blood clot. Surgery can also be used to inject clot prevention medications directly into a vein or artery.
Before treatment ever becomes necessary, however, there are things you can do to prevent the onset of VTE. The most important factor here is proactivity—especially if you visit the hospital or have surgery for any reason, ask about a risk assessment for VTE. Your doctor can use your information and medical history to determine if you’re at higher risk of developing VTE and can provide prevention tips like wearing compression clothing or taking certain medications.
If you have symptoms of VTE, contact your doctor.
“Strategies for Venous Thromboembolism Prevention.” Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/armstrong_institute/improvement_projects/VTE/strategies.html
“Prevention and Treatment of Venous Thromboembolism (VTE).” American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/VascularHealth/VenousThromboembolism/Prevention-and-Treatment-of-Venous-Thromboembolism-VTE_UCM_479058_Article.jsp