Condition: Venous thromboembolism (VTE) is a blood clot in the veins. Types of VTE include superficial (in veins close to the skin), deep vein thrombosis (in veins deep in the muscles) and pulmonary embolism (PE), which is a blockage in the lungs.
Background: Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) develops when blood pools then clots, and often occurs in a leg. Sometimes these clots loosen and travel to the lung causing a PE. In the U.S., more than 600,000 people develop a VTE and nearly half die from it.
Risk Factors: Anyone who is inactive for long periods is at risk for a VTE, from a patient post-surgery to a long-distance traveler. However, there are many risk factors: cancer, smoking, stroke and obesity are just some of them.
History and Symptoms: Sudden pain or swelling in one calf only is one symptom. DVT’s in an upper limb often cause sudden arm swelling. With PE, difficulty breathing is usually the primary symptom.
Physical Exam: To check for a DVT, healthcare providers usually examine each calf to see if it is tender or has edema (watery fluid). There are no physical exams to determine if a patient has PE, but doctors often check for low blood oxygen, and if the patient is breathing rapidly and has an increased heart rate.
Diagnostic Process: Only about 33% of VTE patients are diagnosed correctly. If a VTE is diagnosed during DVT, a patient has a better chance of survival.
Rehab Management: To encourage circulation so blood is less likely to clot, frequent movement is encouraged. Patients can also wear compression stockings which help with circulation. If patients are on blood thinners, they should follow all instructions.
Other Resources for Patients and Families: Patient and family education about VTEs is critical since VTEs are dangerous, yet many can be avoided.