The development of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) after surgery is common place. A DVT affects mainly the veins in the lower leg and the thigh. It involves the formation of a clot (thrombus) in the larger veins of the area. This clot may interfere with circulation and it may break off and travel through the blood stream (embolize). A resulting embolus can lodge in the brain, lungs, heart, or other area, causing severe damage to that organ.
Given the high occurrence of postoperative DVT’s, preventative (or prophylactic) steps should always be considered by your doctor prior to your surgery. For DVT prophylaxis, it is generally recommended that all surgery patients receive either low-dose heparin or intermittent compressions devices. DVT is often clinically silent and the first manifestation can be a life-threatening pulmonary embolism. A recent study of U.S. patients showed that only one-third of general surgery patients actually receive prophylaxis despite multiple risk factors for the development of a DVT.
Orthopedic surgery of the hip and knee has the highest incidence of DVT’s. Other risk factors include: trauma, increasing age, malignancy, pregnancy, and varicose veins.
Be an informed patient. Ask your surgeon about the need for prophylactic treatment BEFORE you go under the knife!