What is the treatment for deep vein thrombosis?Superficial Thrombophlebitis
Treatment for superficial blood clots is symptomatic with:
- warm compresses,
- leg compression, and
- an anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen.
Deep venous thromboses
Deep venous thromboses that occur below the knee tend not to embolize (break loose). They may be observed with serial ultrasounds to make certain they are not extending above the knee. At the same time, the cause of the deep vein thrombosis may need to be addressed.
The treatment for deep venous thrombosis above the knee is anticoagulation, unless a contraindication exists. Contraindications include recent major surgery (since anticoagulation would thin all the blood in the body, not just that in the leg, leading to significant bleeding issues), or abnormal reactions when previously exposed to blood thinner medications.
Anticoagulation prevents further growth of the blood clot and prevents it from forming an embolus that can travel to the lung.
Anticoagulation is a two step process. Warfarin (Coumadin) is the drug of choice for anti-coagulation. It is begun immediately, but unfortunately it may take a week or more for the blood to be appropriately thinned. Therefore, low molecular weight heparin [enoxaparin (Lovenox)] is administered at the same time. It thins the blood via a different mechanism and is used as a bridge therapy until the warfarin has reached its therapeutic level. Enoxaparin injections can be given on an outpatient basis.
For those patients who have contraindications to the use of enoxaparin (for example, kidney failure does not allow the drug to be metabolized), intravenous heparin can be used as the first step. This requires admission to the hospital.
The dosage of warfarin is monitored by blood tests measuring the prothrombin time or INR (international normalized ratio). For an uncomplicated deep vein thrombosis, the recommended length of therapy with warfarin is three to six months.
Some patients may have contraindications for warfarin therapy, for example a patient with bleeding in the brain, major trauma, or recent significant surgery. An alternative may be to place a filter in the inferior vena cava (the major vein that collects blood from both legs) to prevent emboli from reaching the heart and lungs. These filters may be effective but also may be the source of new clot formation.
Surgery is a rare option in treating large deep venous thrombosis of the leg in patients who cannot take blood thinners or who have developed recurrent blood clots while on anti-coagulant medications. The surgery is usually accompanied by placing an IVC (inferior vena cava) filter to prevent future clots from embolizing to the lung.
Phlegmasia Cerulea Dolens describes a situation in which a blood clot forms in the iliac vein of the pelvis and the femoral vein of the leg, obstructing almost all blood return and compromising blood supply to the leg. In this case surgery may be considered to remove the clot, but the patient will also require anti-coagulant medications.