Venous Thromboembolism vs. Deep Vein Thrombosis: Similarities and Differences
While venous thromboembolism (VTE) and deep vein thrombosis (DVT) are similar in some ways, they are not the same conditions. VTE is a broader term that includes DVT as well as the potentially life-threatening pulmonary embolism (PE).
When it comes to educating ourselves about health matters, understanding medical terms can be a challenge. It's not unusual to encounter complex words that seem to describe similar conditions. For example, venous thromboembolism (VTE) and deep vein thrombosis (DVT) are two such terms that often create confusion. While these conditions are related, they are different.
In this blog, we will explore the similarities and differences between VTE and DVT to help you better understand these disorders and the importance of seeking prompt medical attention if you suspect you may have either.
What is Deep Vein Thrombosis?
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a condition that occurs when blood flow in your veins (typically in the legs) slows down or becomes blocked, forming a blood clot. This clot can obstruct blood flow, leading to various symptoms, which we will discuss shortly. DVT can be a severe and potentially life-threatening condition if left untreated.
The risk of developing a DVT increases if you are sedentary because of prolonged bed rest after surgery or injury or extended periods of sitting without movement, as often happens during travel. Other risk factors include obesity, pregnancy, or a family history of blood clots.
What is Venous Thromboembolism?
Venous thromboembolism (VTE) is a broader term encompassing two conditions: DVT and pulmonary embolism (PE). Pulmonary embolism occurs when a part of the DVT clot breaks free and travels through the bloodstream, eventually lodging itself in the pulmonary arteries of the lungs. VTE, therefore, involves the risk of both DVT and PE, with PE being especially dangerous as it can compromise blood flow to the lungs and become life-threatening.
The risk of having VTE increases significantly following major surgical procedures, severe injuries, or during episodes of infection and inflammation.
Now that we've defined both conditions, let's dive deeper into their similarities and differences.
Similarities between VTE and DVT
Both VTE and DVT involve the formation of blood clots. In DVT, these clots form in the deep veins, typically in the legs. In the case of VTE, if a clot breaks free from the deep vein and travels to the lungs, it causes PE. This shared characteristic makes them related conditions.
Several risk factors contribute to the development of both VTE and DVT. These include a family history of blood clots, prolonged immobility, certain medical conditions (such as cancer and obesity), and even long-haul flights. If you have one or more risk factors, you should be especially vigilant in recognizing the symptoms of these conditions.
The symptoms of VTE and DVT can be pretty similar, making it challenging to distinguish between the two based on symptoms alone. Common symptoms include pain, swelling, redness, and warmth in the affected limb. These symptoms occur because the clot disrupts blood flow in the veins, causing inflammation.
Differences between VTE and DVT
Scope of the Condition
The main difference between VTE and DVT is the scope of the condition. DVT is limited to the formation of blood clots in the deep veins, usually in the legs. Conversely, VTE encompasses both DVT and the life-threatening condition PE, which is caused by a clot traveling to the lungs.
While DVT is undoubtedly a serious condition, VTE is potentially even more dangerous due to the risk of PE. Pulmonary embolism can block blood flow to the lungs, leading to symptoms like shortness of breath, chest pain, and even sudden death. Recognizing the symptoms of PE is crucial because immediate medical intervention is vital to prevent life-threatening complications.
The treatment for DVT and VTE varies to some extent. For DVT, treatment typically includes blood-thinning medications, compression stockings, and lifestyle changes. In the case of VTE, treatment may involve preventing the clot from getting larger or traveling to the lungs, along with addressing the underlying cause, which could be DVT. This may require more intensive therapy.
Preventing VTE and DVT
Prevention is always better than cure, and there are several steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing VTE or DVT:
Stay Active: Regular exercise can help improve blood flow and reduce the risk of clots forming in your deep veins.
Stay Hydrated: Drinking plenty of water helps prevent blood from becoming too thick and clot-prone.
Healthy Eating: Maintain a balanced diet to keep your weight in check and reduce the risk of obesity, a known risk factor for both VTE and DVT.
Compression Stockings: If you have risk factors for DVT, consider wearing compression stockings, especially during long flights or periods of immobility.
Know Your Risk: Understanding your personal risk factors and discussing them with your healthcare provider can help you take appropriate preventive measures.
What Should I Do if I Suspect Venous Thromboembolism or Deep Vein Thrombosis?
If you experience pain, swelling, warmth, or redness in your leg or have difficulty breathing, it is imperative to seek immediate medical attention immediately. While these symptoms might not always indicate VTE or DVT, they should not be ignored, especially if you have risk factors. Early diagnosis and prompt treatment can significantly improve the outcome for both conditions.
The primary treatment option for non-high-risk venous thromboembolism (VTE) or pulmonary embolism (PE) consists of direct oral anticoagulants and vitamin K antagonists (VKAs), which are effective in preventing renewed blood clot formation because they thin the blood.
CVR offers a same-day rule-out service DVT or next-day diagnosis and treatment plan options. Our hotline number is 877-SCAN-DVT.
What To Do If You Are Experiencing Varicose Vein Discomfort
If your legs ache, throb, feel heavy, or you have uncomfortable or unsightly varicose veins or spider veins, call 1-800-FIX-LEGS (1-800-349-5347) to speak to a Patient Services Representative or schedule your consultation online at a CVR near you today.
CVR accepts many insurances, including Aetna, Amerigroup, Anthem, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Cigna, MultiPlan, Medicaid, Medicare, and more.