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As the name suggests a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is the formation of a blood clot in a deep vein, usually in the lower leg. A DVT can sometimes form in the arm or deep veins of the pelvis, but this is much less common.
One of the main predisposing factors for DVT is immobility (hence the association with long haul flights) but trauma to the leg veins following a fracture or surgery and clotting abnormalities of the blood can also lead to the development of clots (thrombi).
The clot in the vein is not a danger in itself, although it will cause localised pain, swelling and inflammation, but it can break away from its original position and travel through the heart to become lodged in one of the arterial blood vessels supplying the lungs or the brain, where it can have catastrophic consequences. A clot blocking a blood vessel to the brain is known as a cerebral embolism and results in a stroke, which is always serious and sometimes fatal. A clot blocking a vessel to the lungs is called a pulmonary embolism (or embolus) and this can sometimes also be fatal.
However, it should be remembered that most DVT’s dissolve without serious complications if treated with anticoagulants (Heparin and Warfarin) and it is only a minority that go on to cause further problems. However, prompt diagnosis and treatment of a DVT is essential because of the inherent risks of serious injury.