Why can DVT be so serious? – Blog 3

May 16, 2019

Posted by: Tom Lax


In this, my final blog of three on the subject, I will discuss why Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) can be such a serious condition and what treatment you should expect if you suffer from it.

If you are interested in what DVT is or the risk factors that can lead to DVT occurring then please read my first two blogs in this series.

Pulmonary Embolism

Pulmonary Embolism (PE) is considered to be the most concerning complication that occurs as a result of DVT.

At the end of my last blog, we left the imaginary DVT formed (most likely in the calf) causing pain and redness.  Imagine it breaking off from the side of the vein, travelling happily through the bloodstream until it reaches an artery connecting the heart and lungs where it gets wedged, disturbing the blood flow and stopping the lungs from working well. Perhaps stopping the lungs from working altogether…

If you don’t get oxygen in your blood then the rest of your body will become starved of it.  Without a ready supply of oxygen keeping the muscles in the heart pumping, it will stop working.  If the heart fails this can lead to death or brain injury.  All this from a simple malfunction of the blood causing a clot to form when and where it shouldn’t.

The most notable symptoms of pulmonary embolism are:

  • shortness of breath,
  • coughing up blood,
  • chest pain,
  • rapid heart rate,
  • rapid breathing, and
  • anxiety

If you think you may be suffering pulmonary embolism you must seek emergency medical attention.

Diagnosing pulmonary embolism

One in ten untreated DVTs develop into a severe pulmonary embolism so it is pretty easy to understand why diagnosis and treatment of DVT is so important.

On arrival at hospital with a suspected DVT, the first thing that is likely to happen is a physical examination.  The risk factors that may lead to DVT should also be considered (many of which I outlined in my second blog).

After this, if the doctors think that it is likely that you do have a DVT then ideally they should undertake an ultrasound of your leg within four hours.

If this is not possible, then they should take blood for a “D-dimer” test, give a dose of an anti-coagulant and refer you for an ultrasound to take place within 24 hours.

Even if the doctors think it is unlikely you have DVT then they should undertake a “D-dimer” blood test as a final check.  If this is negative no further action need be taken as it would be really unlikely that you have a DVT.

A “D-dimer” test examines your blood to see if it has reacted to a clot.

If a D-dimer test result is higher than it should be it could signify other conditions, but it would make it much more likely that you were suffering from a DVT and would indicate that an ultrasound should be undertaken (even if there are not other risk factors for DVT present).

If you have a DVT it is very, very likely that an ultrasound will diagnose it.

All the above information (and more) relating to diagnosis can be found in the NICE guidelines.

Treatment for deep vein thrombosis

From the point of diagnosis, tailored anticoagulant treatment (normally for around three months) and monitoring should be organised.

Anticoagulant medicines alter proteins within the blood, which prevents clots forming so easily.  They can also help stop the blood clot breaking off and causing a pulmonary embolism.

Even if you are on anticoagulants you are still at risk of pulmonary embolism, so advice should also be given as to the warning signs for pulmonary embolism.

If it is not clear why you suffered DVT further tests may be organised as DVT can be an indicator of an underlying condition, such as cancer.

Advice may also be given as to lifestyle choices (smoking, diet etc) which if changed could stop you from developing DVT again.

Medical negligence connected to treating DVT

Of course, every instance of DVT is different. Different causes, different presentation, different treatment required.

But, a failure to provide the correct treatment, whether it is a failure to conduct an ultrasound properly, a delay in getting tests results or the prescription of the wrong medication, can result in catastrophic injury including brain injury.

If you think that you, a friend or relative may have suffered an injury due to poor medical treatment, then Bolt Burdon Kemp has a team of specialised lawyers who are experienced in providing the support and advice you need to make a claim.

Tom Lax is a senior solicitor in the Adult Brain Injury team at Bolt Burdon Kemp.  If you or a loved one are concerned about the treatment you have received, contact Tom free of charge and in confidence on 020 7288 4840 or at tomlax@boltburdonkemp.co.uk.  Alternatively, complete this form and one of the solicitors in the Medical Negligence team will contact you.  Find out more about the Adult Brain Injury team.

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Posted by: Tom Lax

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