Blood Clots, Deep Vein Thrombosis, and Varicose Veins

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Varicose veins can be a cause of blood clots and can be caused by deep vein thrombosis. The treatment of varicose veins can also lead to a deep vein thrombosis, which can be a life threatening condition.

Deep Vein Thrombosis

A deep vein thrombosis is a blood clot, which normally occurs in the deep veins of the leg. It causes pain, swelling, heat, redness, and heaviness in the affected leg. It can also become fatal if the blood clot breaks off and enters the lungs causing pulmonary embolism. If this happens it can cause breathlessness, chest pain, and sudden collapse and should be treated immediately by the emergency services.

Deep vein thrombosis can occur for no known reason but there are certain factors that can trigger a deep vein thrombosis. If you are inactive, blood can back up in the veins of your leg causing the flow to slow down and increasing the chances that a clot will develop. This is common if you are immobile for long periods of time for example if you are ill, disabled, or on a long journey. This makes it a risk of long surgeries particularly if you have had a deep vein thrombosis before.

Deep vein thrombosis can be treated with anticoagulants, which stop the blood clot from growing and prevent part of it from breaking off. Common anticoagulants are heparin and warfarin and are also known as blood thinners. Deep vein thrombosis can also be managed with compression stockings. These are normally prescribed before and after varicose vein surgery to prevent the development of deep vein thrombosis.

Deep vein thrombosis can lead to varicose veins. This is because it slows blood flow, which puts more pressure on the valves of the superficial veins causing them to malfunction allowing the backflow of blood.

Superficial Blood Clots in Varicose Veins

In some people, varicose veins can cause blood clots to develop in the superficial veins near the surface of the skin. These should not be confused with deep vein thrombosis. These blood clots are known as superficial thrombophlebititis and can cause:

  • Inflammation of the vein
  • Swelling of the calf or thigh
  • Tenderness and pain
  • Harness of the vein
  • Heat surrounding the vein
  • Skin discolouration
  • Increased body temperature

Superficial thrombophlebitis is caused by damage of the vein wall, which slows blood flow, increasing the chance that a clot will develop. This can be caused by varicose veins or inactivity. About one in three people with varicose veins will develop a superficial thrombophlebitis at some point.

Superficial thrombophlebitis does not usually require treatment as it is not a high- risk condition and rarely causes complications. It usually goes away within six weeks although the vein may be tender and lumpy for longer than this and discolouration may be serious.

The biggest risk of thrombophlebitis is infection, which can be fatal. This normally happens if you have a skin infection or IV drip. The infection can infect the whole body. There is also a slight risk that the superficial clot will travel into the deep vein becoming a more serious condition.

Where treatment is required superficial thrombophlebitis normally involves the use of ice packs to reduce the heat and swelling of the area. If medication is required anti- inflammatory medications or anticoagulants may be prescribed. Infections caused by superficial thrombophlebitis will be treated with antibiotics. You may be prescribed compression socks or stockings to reduce discomfort and prevent the growth of the clots. If the clot moves to a larger vein you may require surgery to remove it.

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