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The main goals of treating deep vein thrombosis (DVT) include:
Medicines are used to prevent and treat DVT.
Anticoagulants are the most common medicines for treating DVT. They're also known as blood thinners. These medicines decrease your blood's ability to clot. They also stop existing blood clots from getting bigger. However, blood thinners can't break up blood clots that have already formed. (The body dissolves most blood clots with time.)
Blood thinners can be taken as either a pill, an injection under the skin, or through a needle or tube inserted into a vein (called intravenous, or IV, injection).
Warfarin and heparin are two blood thinners used to treat DVT. Warfarin is given in pill form. (Coumadin® is a common brand name for warfarin.) Heparin is given as an injection or through an IV tube. There are different types of heparin. Your doctor will discuss the options with you. Your doctor may treat you with both heparin and warfarin at the same time. Heparin acts quickly. Warfarin takes 2 to 3 days before it starts to work. Once the warfarin starts to work, the heparin is stopped.
Pregnant women usually are treated with just heparin because warfarin is dangerous during pregnancy.
Treatment for DVT using blood thinners usually lasts from 3 to 6 months. The following situations may change the length of treatment.
The most common side effect of blood thinners is bleeding. This happens if the medicine thins your blood too much. This side effect can be life threatening.
Sometimes, the bleeding is internal (inside your body). People treated with blood thinners usually have regular blood tests to measure their blood's ability to clot. These blood tests are called PT and PTT tests. These tests also help your doctor make sure you're taking the right amount of medicine. Call your doctor right away if you have easy bruising or bleeding. These may be signs that your medicines have thinned your blood too much.
These medicines interfere with the blood clotting process. They're used to treat blood clots in patients who can't take heparin.
These medicines are given to quickly dissolve a blood clot. They're used to treat large blood clots that cause severe symptoms. Because thrombolytics can cause sudden bleeding, they're used only in life-threatening situations.
Other Types of Treatment
Vena Cava Filter
A vena cava filter is used if you can't take blood thinners or if you're taking blood thinners and still developing blood clots. The filter is inserted inside a large vein called the vena cava. The filter catches blood clots that break off in a vein before they move to the lungs. This prevents pulmonary embolism. However, it doesn't stop new blood clots from forming.
Graduated Compression Stockings
These stockings can reduce the swelling that may occur after a blood clot has developed in your leg. Graduated compression stockings are worn on the legs from the arch of the foot to just above or below the knee. These stockings are tight at the ankle and become looser as they go up the leg. This creates gentle pressure up the leg. The pressure keeps blood from pooling and clotting.
There are three types of compression stockings. One type is support pantyhose. These offer the least amount of pressure. The second type is over-the-counter compression hose. These stockings give a little more pressure than support pantyhose. Over-the-counter compression hose are sold in medical supply stores and pharmacies. Prescription-strength compression hose are the third type of compression stockings. These stockings offer the greatest amount of pressure. They also are sold in medical supply stores and pharmacies. However, you need to be fitted for them in the store by a specially trained person.