DVT is a potentially dangerous complication in which a clot forms in a vein, either in the leg or the pelvis. It can cause localised pain and swelling in the leg. More importantly, the clot, or thrombus, can sometimes become detached and travel up into the lungs, resulting in a pulmonary embolus, which can be fatal if it is large.
Reasons why DVT can occur include:
- immobility in bed, causing sluggish blood flow
- pressure on veins, especially from operations in the pelvic area (like hysterectomy)
- the fact that the blood itself becomes stickier and more liable to clot after an operation
- co-existing drug treatment, such as hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or the contraceptive pill
- close family history of a tendency to form blood clots.
Having said that, DVT is relatively rare because of measures to prevent it, such as:
- getting patients out of bed quickly after surgery
- giving anti-coagulant (blood thinning) drugs such as low-dose heparin or even aspirin tablets
- use of anti-embolic stockings which stimulate blood flow in the leg veins
- stopping the combined oral contraceptive pill in appropriate cases.
If despite all this a DVT develops, treatment with anti-coagulants can prevent the more serious complication of pulmonary embolism