Venous Thromboembolism (VTE)

Venous thromboembolism (VTE) is a condition that occurs when a blood clot forms in a vein. VTE includes deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism (PE). DVT occurs when a blood clot forms in a deep vein, usually in the lower leg, thigh, or pelvis. DVTs can also occur in the arms, especially if there is a large intravenous central line in the vein. Pulmonary embolism occurs when a clot breaks loose and travels through the bloodstream to the lungs. VTE is a common condition, with as many as 600,000 VTE events occurring each year in the United States.

The risk of developing VTE is highest after major surgery, major injury, or during periods of infection and inflammation. This is because blood clots can develop in veins damaged by surgery or injury. Lack of movement after surgery or while traveling long distances can raise the likelihood of blood clotting. Inflammation and serious infection also raise the likelihood of blood clots. Swelling, redness, and pain are some of the symptoms of DVT. A pulmonary embolism can cause sudden chest pain and shortness of breath.

Sometimes VTE occurs without any obvious signs, which can make it harder to diagnose. If you have recently had surgery or have other risk factors of VTE, talk to your healthcare provider about your risk and how to prevent blood clots. Your provider will do tests to find out whether you have the condition.

If you have VTE, your provider may prescribe medicines to treat serious vein blockages and help prevent further blood clots from forming.

Without treatment, VTE can restrict or block blood flow and oxygen, which can damage the body’s tissue or organs. This can be especially serious in the case of a pulmonary embolism, which blocks blood flow to the lungs. If a blood clot is large or there are many clots, a pulmonary embolism can cause death.

Venous thromboembolism treatment

Not everyone who is diagnosed with VTE needs treatment. If the blood clot needs treatment, your healthcare provider will likely prescribe medicine first. You may need a surgical procedure if you cannot take the medicine.

Medicines for venous thromboembolism

Blood thinners (anticoagulants)

Blood thinners keep blood clots from getting larger and stop new clots from forming. Conventional blood thinners include warfarin and heparin, but newer blood-thinning medicines called direct oral anticoagulants (DOACs) are also available. Your healthcare provider will work with you to determine which medicine is best for you based on your medical history.

Depending on the blood thinner, you may be given an injection (shot), take a pill, or have an intravenous tube (IV) inserted. You may need to take blood thinners for several months or for a lifetime. The specific amount of time depends on many factors, like the type of blood thinner and the cause of the blood clot (whether it occurred after a surgery or long flight, for example, or occurred without a known cause).

Possible side effects of blood thinners include bleeding, especially if you are taking other medicines such as aspirin that also thin your blood.

Medicines to dissolve blood clots (thrombolytics)

These medicines are used for large blood clots that cause severe symptoms or other serious complications. Because thrombolytics can cause sudden bleeding, they are used only for serious and potentially life-threatening VTE events, such as pulmonary embolism (PE). You will get this medicine through an IV.

Catheter-assisted blood clot removal

In some cases, including emergencies, your healthcare provider may need to do a catheter-assisted blood transfusion.

Venous thromboembolism (VTE)

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