Venous Thromboembolism (VTE) Treatment
What is venous thromboembolism (VTE) treatment?
Venous thromboembolism (VTE) treatments break up existing blood clots and keep new ones from forming. You may need VTE treatment if you have deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or a pulmonary embolism. A pulmonary embolism can be life-threatening.
Who needs VTE treatment?
Anyone who has DVT or a pulmonary embolism needs VTE treatment. People who have obesity or who are over the age of 40 face a higher risk.
These factors also increase your chances of a VTE:
- Bone fracture or wearing a cast or splint.
- Cancer and treatments like chemotherapy.
- Cardiovascular (heart) disease or history of heart attack or stroke.
- Hormone replacement therapy or hormonal birth control like the birth control pill.
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
- Prolonged sitting, inactivity or immobility due to major surgery, hospitalization, spinal cord injury or paralysis.
- Vascular disease.
What medications treat VTE?
VTE treatments vary depending on the type and severity of the blood clot. Medications to treat VTEs include:
- Anticoagulants: These medications keep a clot from getting bigger while your body reabsorbs it. They also prevent the formation of new clots. You may know these drugs as “blood thinners.” However, they don’t thin out your blood. Instead, they undo or prevent the clotting process so that your blood doesn’t clot more easily than it should. You may take a pill or get an injection (shot) or IV infusion.
- Thrombolytic therapy: This IV infusion breaks apart and dissolves a large blood clot. Your provider may call this medication a “clot buster.”
What surgical procedures treat VTE?
Some people need surgery to treat a life-threatening blood clot. You may also need surgery if you can’t take or tolerate medications to prevent or treat blood clots.
Surgical options include:
- Embolectomy to remove a pulmonary embolism in your lung.
- Thrombectomy to remove a blood clot in your leg, pelvis or arm.
- Placement of an inferior vena cava (IVC) filter inside the large vein (inferior vena cava) that carries blood from your lower body to your heart. The filter captures a clot from your legs before it can reach your lungs.
What medications lower the risk of VTE?
If you have a VTE, you may need to take anticoagulant or antiplatelet medications like aspirin to prevent new clots from forming in the future. Depending on your risk factors and overall health, you may need to take these preventive medications for months or years.
What are other ways to prevent VTE?
You can take these steps to lower your risk of a VTE:
- Choose heart-healthy foods and eat a low-sodium diet.
- Don’t sit or stand for more than 1 hour at a time. Move around and stretch your calves and legs.
- Drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration.
- Elevate your legs at least 6 inches above your heart a few times a day.
- Find healthy ways to ease stress.
- Seek help to quit smoking.
- Stay physically active and maintain a healthy weight.
- Take medications as prescribed by your healthcare provider.
- Use an intermittent pneumatic compression (IPC) device (compression sleeve) after surgery to keep blood circulating and prevent blood clots.
- Wear compression stockings, especially when sitting for a long time. These stockings reduce the risk of fluid retention (edema), swelling (angioedema) and clotting.
Risks / Benefits
What are the benefits of VTE treatment?
VTE treatments can be lifesaving and add years to your life. Medications can break up blood clots and prevent new clots from forming. Surgical procedures can remove blood clots. And IVC filters can keep potentially life-threatening blood clots from reaching your lungs.
What are the risks of taking medications to treat VTE?
Anticoagulant medications can increase your risk of severe bleeding or hemorrhage if you’re injured or having surgery. You may need to stop taking a medication for a day or more before getting surgery. Your healthcare provider will tell you if you need to change your medication schedule. Don’t stop taking any medication before talking to your provider.
What are the risks of getting surgery to treat VTE?
Surgeries to treat VTEs carry a risk of:
- Arrhythmia or heart attack.
- Bleeding or blood vessel damage.
- New blood clots or stroke.
Recovery and Outlook
What is the recovery and outlook for people who get VTE treatments?
Your recovery and outlook depend on the specific type of blood clot and your overall health. Even with VTE treatments, you’re at risk for complications like:
- Chronic venous insufficiency (CVI): DVT can damage valves in the veins in your legs. These valves keep blood moving toward your heart. When they’re damaged, they can’t manage blood flow normally, and blood pools in your leg veins. Providers call this condition chronic venous insufficiency or post-thrombotic syndrome. Symptoms like chronic swelling, pain and fatigue may improve with compression stockings, physical activity, weight loss and antibiotics.
- Pulmonary hypertension (PH): A pulmonary embolism that blocks blood flow to your lungs can lead to a type of high blood pressure in the arteries of your lungs called pulmonary hypertension (PH). This condition increases your risk of heart failure. You may be more at risk for pulmonary hypertension if medications fail to dissolve a blood clot or if you have multiple or recurrent pulmonary embolisms.
When to Call the Doctor
When should I call the doctor?
You should call your healthcare provider if you experience signs of a VTE, such as:
- Coughing up blood.
- Dizziness or fainting (syncope).
- Fast pulse and heart rate.
- Pain, swelling or tenderness in your arm, leg or pelvis.
- Profuse sweating.
- Shortness of breath or pain when you take a deep breath.
- Skin that’s red, warm or discolored.
- Unexplained, severe muscle cramps or muscle pain.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
If you’ve learned you have a blood clot in one of your veins, you might feel scared and wonder what happens next. Your healthcare provider is there to answer your questions and explain your treatment options. If you’re at risk for new blood clots forming, your provider will explain how treatments and lifestyle changes can help lower your risk. A venous thromboembolism is a common condition, but with treatment, many people avoid serious complications.
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