Venous thromboembolism, or VTE, is a condition in which blood clots form in veins that are deep inside the body. It most commonly affects the large veins in the thighs and lower legs, but it can develop elsewhere too. More than 1 million cases are estimated to occur in the U.S. each year. Of that total, approximately two-thirds occur in hospitalized patients. Around 300,000 of those cases result in death each year. As a result, VTE is the third most common cause of death during hospitalization, but it occurs in non-hospitalized people too and is the third most common cardiovascular illness after acute coronary syndrome and stroke.
Unfortunately, venous thromboembolism is very common. Two conditions — deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism — are subcategories of the disease, and they pose serious risks to people’s health and lives. Deep vein thrombosis occurs when blood clots in deep veins become dislodged and travel into the lungs. This results in pulmonary embolism, which refers to the blockage of arteries in the lung due to blood clots. Patients who develop pulmonary embolism have a 30 to 60 percent chance of dying from the condition, whether they are currently hospitalized or not.
The vast majority of people who develop venous thromboembolism are aged 60 or older. However, VTE can occur in people of all ages. Certain factors increase the risk of developing VTE, including obesity, fractures in the legs or pelvis, pregnancy, recent surgery or a family history of the condition. It is also strongly associated with bed rest or otherwise sitting still for extended periods of time, which is why so many people who are hospitalized ultimately suffer from the condition. Blood clots are more likely to develop in people who smoke and those with certain autoimmune disorders. Birth control pills and estrogens may also increase the risk, and cancer may as well.
Symptoms and Treatment
Symptoms of VTE most commonly occur in the thigh or lower leg on one side of the body. The affected area may become red in appearance. Swelling, or edema, is usually present. The skin may feel warm to the touch, and the leg may be painful too. If these symptoms occur, it’s crucial to seek medical attention immediately. The most common treatment for VTE is anticoagulants, or blood thinners, which are intended to prevent new clots and to keep existing ones from growing. Pressure stockings are often used to improve bloodflow as well. In some cases, surgery is necessary.