Understanding Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT/PE)

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March 1, 2024

Reviewed by Dr. Kenneth Harper, MD


March is DVT Awareness Month, and at Vein Specialists of the South, one of our ‘guiding principles’ is community education and outreach. We believe that by empowering you with knowledge you can make better decisions toward living a life with better-looking and better-feeling legs.

If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with a blood clot or Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) which could break free and travel to your lungs causing a life-threatening pulmonary embolism (PE) we understand how frightening this can be. My goal is to lessen your anxiety through knowledge and encourage you to be more proactive in your vein health.

In this blog, you will learn more about vein basics, causes, symptoms, how to lower your risk, diagnose, and treat DVT/PE.

Vein Basics

Your venous system is a system of pipes (veins), pumps (your calf muscles), and valves (one-way check valves). Working together your healthy veins efficiently return the blood from the cellular level to your vital organs, heart, and lungs.

There are three types of veins (in your thigh and legs): superficial veins, deep veins, and perforator veins. The superficial veins are in the space beneath your skin and superficial to your muscles. The deep veins are located in the deep or muscular space. The perforator veins connect the deep and superficial veins.

The general pattern of vein blood flow is from the superficial and perforator veins into the deep veins. Most of the venous blood return is in the deep veins. When these components work well together your venous circulation is healthy.

What is DVT/PE ?

DVT: a blood clot (thrombus) that develops in a deep vein. These deep veins are in muscular space well below the skin and subcutaneous fatty layer and are most commonly seen in the deep veins of the thigh and legs. However, DVT can occur in other deep veins of your body. Acute DVT can lead to acute and chronic conditions.

PE: is a blood clot that breaks free from a deep vein and travels to your lungs. PE is a serious potentially life-threatening condition. In the US the equivalent of a jumbo jet full of people dies each day in the US from PE.

The Science Behind DVT: ‘Virchow’s Triad’ – described three factors commonly seen in patients who develop a DVT: 

  1. Stasis or pooling blood in a vein, Sitting or standing for prolonged periods may slow the venous blood return from your legs to your heart and lungs, especially if you have vein problems. Tight or ill-fitting garments can impede the flow, also.
  2. Injury to a vein wall, Injury to the lining of your vein initiates a ‘cascade’ of natural responses to repair the damage to the vein which can lead to clot formation or DVT.
  3. A hypercoagulable state of your blood. Some of the hypercoagulable states that can lead to an increased risk of blood clots include inherited or genetic conditions, dehydration, and a high red blood cell count.

DVT/PE/Acute Iliac Vein Obstruction Symptoms and Potential Complications:

Although 50% of DVTs are silent, when symptomatic you may notice aching, pain, tenderness, or swelling in the involved leg. If you have these symptoms you should seek medical care ASAP.

The most serious risk associated with DVT is a potentially life-threatening health complication, pulmonary embolism (PE) For many patients with PE their first symptom is sudden chest pain, difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, and a feeling of doom. This is a life-threatening medical emergency and requires immediate medical care in a hospital ER setting…Call 911 if you have these symptoms.

A less common but serious risk of DVT is obstruction of the venous outflow from the involved extremity. The most common source is obstruction of the left iliac vein with thrombosis which blocks the venous blood return resulting in a potential limb-threatening condition. This is a medical emergency and requires immediate hospital care and a physician specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of acute deep vein obstruction. Call 911 if you have these symptoms.

Late complications of a DVT is a condition known as ‘post phlebitic syndrome’ a swollen, painful leg, often with skin changes. You should see a Vein Specialist if you have a history of DVT and these symptoms.

Tips for Vein Health and Prevention of DVT

exercise for vein health

While not all DVTs can be prevented, we recommend the following for improving circulation and reducing the risk of DVT and other venous diseases:

  • Stay active and exercise regularly
  • Wear medical-grade compression, especially if you have known risk factors
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Stay well hydrated, especially when flying or long car journeys
  • Avoid sitting for prolonged periods – get up and move around every hour or so, especially when traveling; if you can’t get up and walk, pump your calf muscles regularly to improve circulation
  • High heels negatively impact your calf pump and venous flow. If your swelling is ‘not too bad, consider wearing them for special occasions only.
  • Elevate your legs, feet above your heart, every day for 15 minutes
  • Be conscious of your risk factors, including personal or family history of blood clots, or use of medications that can increase clotting risk

Factors Contributing to Vein Disease and DVT/PE and What You Should Do About Them

desk jobs increase your risk of varicose veins and DVT

Genetics or Family History

If you have a family history of venous disease, you may have inherited a genetic predisposition for developing DVT/PE. If you have a family history of DVT/PE make sure to include that in your family history. If you have a family history of DVT/PE ask your vein specialists if genetic testing is indicated.

Sedentary Lifestyle

A sedentary lifestyle can increase your risks of vein disease and DVT/PE. Sitting or standing for prolonged periods increases your risk for DVT/PE. Keeping active is on the VSS Better Veins for Life principles.

Occupational Risks

Occupations with increased risks of varicose veins and DVT have one thing in common, limited movement. Common occupations of patients we see at VSS include teachers, coaches, factory workers, pharmacists, retail workers, and more. Get up and move to lower your occupational risks and wear medical-grade compression to augment your venous blood flow.

Medical Conditions

Medical conditions that limit your mobility increase your risk of developing a DVT. For instance accidents, injuries, surgery, broken bones, etc. Hormone therapy, birth control pills, and other medications can trigger a DVT. Many genetic abnormalities are associated with an increased risk of DVT.

Untreated Vein Disease

Studies show that untreated Varicose Vein disease leads to a statistically significant increased risk of developing a DVT and an increased risk of developing a PE. If you have varicose veins you should seek evaluation and treatment to lower your risk of DVT.

Healthy Weight Management

Being overweight is a risk factor for varicose veins and DVT. If you struggle with your weight, work with your physician, trainer, or nutritionist to optimize your diet and vein health. If you need vein care, ask your vein specialists how your weight can impact your vein health.


It’s just 3 easy steps…

Vein Specialists of the South Macon


Vein Specialists of the South Macon


Vein Specialists of the South Macon





DVT Symptoms You Should Not Ignore

Symptoms of DVT may include swelling, redness, warmth, or pain in the leg, but oftentimes. Do not ignore these symptoms. If you have these symptoms see a physician to make sure you do not have a DVT.

Life or Limb-Threatening Risks Associated With DVT You Should Not Ignore

PE is a life threatening emergencyA life-threatening complication of a DVT is a clot in your leg detaching, traveling through the bloodstream, and getting stuck in the lungs. This condition is a Pulmonary Embolism (PE).

Symptoms of PE include; sudden chest pain, difficulty taking a deep breath, shortness of breath, or a feeling of doom. In fact, only 50% of individuals diagnosed with DVT/PE reported experiencing any symptoms before the first signs of PE. if you have these symptoms call 911. Immediate, emergency medical attention is imperative. In the US alone, the equivalent of a jumbo jet crash of patients dies every day from PE. Many of these deaths are preventable.

A limb-threatening risk of DVT is a massive clot in the iliac vein that blocks the major deep venous blood return and can lead to a condition known as Phlegmasia Cerulea Dolens. If you have sudden leg swelling and pain and bluish discoloration of the skin of your legs you may have an obstructive DVT. If not detected, diagnosed, and treated immediately to clear out the clot, there is a risk of loss of limb or life. This is an acute medical emergency and you should call 911 or report immediately to a hospital ER near you. 

Diagnosis of DVT

At Vein Specialists of the South, we are vigilant about your vein health and want you to be, too. If you have unexplained leg symptoms, particularly if you have existing varicose veins, we highly recommend you see your Vein Specialists for a vein consultation and evaluation.

Worried you may have a DVT? Go to your doctor, urgent care, or hospital ER and express your concern about your legs. Ask this question, “How do you know I don’t have a DVT/PE?”

Duplex venous ultrasound is the tool most commonly used for the diagnosis of DVT. It’s a simple, quick, and accurate test for DVT. In a hospital setting, a screening blood test (d-dimer) may be ordered. If positive, it increases the suspicion that you may have a DVT.

There are advantages to seeing a vein specialist with an office-based practice. The office-based lab saves you time by keeping you out of the ER and saves you on costly hospital charges. It assures a quick diagnostic study and interpretation so you don’t wait hours for a study to get your results or begin treatment if needed.

At VSS our office vascular lab is Accredited by the IAC as a ‘center of excellence for venous ultrasound’ And our office is an Accredited Vein Center. Each team member who performs your Venous US is registered in US diagnostic imaging’ And our physicians who read the studies have credentials in vascular lab interpretation.

Diagnosis of PE or Phlegmasia with Iliac Vein Obstruction

If you suspect you are having a PE or Phlegmasia obstruction of her deep veins based on the symptoms mentioned above, call 911 immediately and remember to ask the doctors ‘how do you know I am not having a PE or Iliac vein obstruction.’

Based on history, physical exams, and symptoms of PE, an urgent CT scan of the chest is the test most often ordered. Other tests may be deemed appropriate by the providers.

Based on the history, physical exam, and symptoms of sudden and severe swelling of the lower extremity (more common in the LLE) an urgent duplex US of the lower abdomen and legs will be ordered. This scan and CT if needed should clearly diagnose and or rule out a Deep Vein Thrombosis in the iliac vein that drains that leg.

Effective Treatment for DVT

At Vein Specialists of the South, we are equipped with the expertise to evaluate your leg health, discuss any symptoms you’ve been experiencing, and develop a treatment plan designed specifically for your needs. Treatment options may include anticoagulants (blood thinners), and compression therapy. In some cases, minimally invasive procedures to remove or dissolve the clots may be appropriate. In those cases, we have referral relationships with physicians with expertise in these treatments.

If you are diagnosed with PE or Phlegmasia, you should immediately be referred to a tertiary hospital setting with the capability of treating these limb- or life-threatening conditions PE, and iliac vein DVT with obstruction.

Treatment of a serious PE may require specialized testing and treatment to break up the clot in the lung and remove it, restoring healthy blood flow to the heart and lungs.

Likewise, aggressive measures are taken if the iliac vein thrombosis is severe and putting your limb or life at risk. The measures include clot-busting medications and mechanical measures to remove the blood clot and stent the vein open if it is scarred closed.

Vein Specialists of the South Macon


*Individual Results May Vary

Vein Specialists of the South Macon

Your Health Is Our Priority

At Vein Specialists of the South (VSS), we promise to treat you the way we would want our own loved ones to be treated. With locations in Macon, Locust Grove, and Warner Robins, GA, and virtual options for vein evaluation and follow-up appointments, we strive to provide you with convenient care.

Your health and comfort are of utmost importance to us. We encourage you to take charge of your vascular health, and we’re here to support you every step of the way.

Schedule a Vein Evaluation Today

During DVT Awareness Month, and all year long, we invite you to schedule your vein evaluation at one of our convenient locations. Together, we can review your symptoms and craft a personalized treatment plan for your vein care. With the help of our accredited team, you can pursue a life free from the pains and health risks associated with venous disease, varicose veins, and leg swelling while lowering your risks of DVT and PE.

Remember, when it comes to your health, knowledge is power—and action is vital. Get in touch today, and take a positive step toward Better Veins for Life®.

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