Deep Vein Thrombosis Complications Thromboembolisms

A thromboembolism (TE) occurs when a blood clot breaks loose and causes a blockage in either the veins or the arteries. While some blockages are minor, others are extremely serious and can cause circulation problems, certain diseases and even death.

In some cases, medications or an existing disease (such as lupus) may increase a person’s risk factors for developing thromboembolism. Although older individuals may be more susceptible, a TE can occur at any age. Luckily, thromboembolisms are rare in the general population.

Clot Formation and Thromboembolism

When the body is injured, platelets form clots in order to stop bleeding. While clots are beneficial when we scrape our knees or other parts of our skin, they can cause a problem when they develop inside an artery or a vein.

Clot formation, referred to as thrombosis, can arise from a number of reasons, including:

  • extended bed rest
  • injury to an extremity
  • obesity
  • pregnancy
  • sitting in one place for an extended period of time
  • surgery.

Additional risk factors associated with the development of thromboembolism include smoking, taking birth control pills and having certain cancers. Similarly, those with specific autoimmune diseases, including systemic lupus erythematosus, may possess lupus anticoagulants, which put them at a greater predisposition for thromboembolism.

Types of Thromboembolism

Venous thromboembolisms (VTEs) form in the veins and are more common in those with a sedentary lifestyle. VTEs form primarily in the veins of the legs, pelvis and arms. When a clot breaks loose from these veins and travels to the lungs, it becomes a pulmonary embolism.

Arterial thromboembolisms (ATEs) form in the arteries and can impact the brain, heart and extremities.

ATEs may result from:

  • artery rupture
  • clotting within a hardened artery
  • loosened plaque.

When ATEs break loose from a major organ, they typically travel toward the arms and legs or the brain. This is a serious situation, especially if it results from an existing disease, which compounds the problem. Arterial thromboembolisms are often sudden and life threatening.

In some cases, a thromboembolism may appear just below the surface of the skin. These are often insignificant and cause no harm, though they may leave the skin looking bruised or red.

Symptoms of Thromboembolism

In the case of venous thromboembolisms, the following symptoms may be present:

  • feeling of warmth at site of developing clot
  • leg pain, sensitivity and swelling
  • skin color changes.

Once a pulmonary embolism occurs, symptoms may include:

  • blood in sputum
  • change in breathing
  • chest pain
  • feeling faint or losing consciousness.

An arterial thromboembolism may cause an individual to experience cooler temperatures in the area surrounding a clot and/or a lowered pulse rate accompanied by pain.

Individuals with any type thromboembolism may experience varying or different symptoms or no symptoms at all.

Thromboembolism Tests and Treatment

Tests help determine the course of treatment for thromboembolism. Depending on the thromboembolism location, tests may include:

  • angiography
  • MRI
  • scans
  • X-rays.

To help prevent or reduce thromboembolisms, doctors may prescribe certain blood-thinning medications or may suggest a patient wear compression stockings. Compression stockings can help prevent a recurrence of thromboembolisms, as can boots designed to improve blood circulation. Surgical removal of the clot is also an option in rare cases.

When a thromboembolism occurs in an arm or leg, it is critical to seek treatment immediately. Prolonged blockage at the site may result in amputation.

A physician may recommend other treatments, such as:

  • bypass graft (a procedure that reroutes blood flow around the clot)
  • endarterectomy (surgical stripping of plaque from an artery)
  • percutaneous transluminal angioplasty (clearing the clot with a balloon)
  • thrombolytic therapy (unclogging the artery with a direct infusion of clot-busting drugs).

Thromboembolism Complications and Prognosis

Surgeries and medications for thromboembolism do carry the risk of excessive bleeding. Those on blood-thinning drugs should refrain from some sports and exercise, especially weightlifting.

Recurrence of clotting is another complication that will require continued treatment. In the case of a stroke, or brain thromboembolism, therapy may be temporary or long-term.

Most patients who eliminate the underlying causes of thromboembolism and effectively manage the condition have a good prognosis for recovery.

Resources (2006). Thromboembolism. Retrieved June 21, 2007, from the Healthopedia Web site: (2007). Blood Disorders. Retrieved June 21, 2007, from the Lupus Foundation of America Web site: