Watch: What is DVT and how can we stop it?

BHF Professor Steve Watson explains what to do if you have deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Watch our animation to learn more about the condition and the BHF researchers looking for a cure. 

A deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a serious condition that needs to be dealt with promptly. DVT is a blood clot in one of the deep veins in the leg, usually in the calf. It causes pain, swelling and redness and is a medical emergency because if the clot dislodges it can travel to the lung, causing a potentially fatal pulmonary embolism. If you have pain, swelling and tenderness in your leg and you develop breathlessness and chest pain, seek immediate medical attention.

Around 60,000 people develop DVT in the UK every year. DVT can develop in anyone, but is more likely if you’re sitting or lying down for a long time. People with heart failure are also at increased risk, because the heart is less effective at pumping blood. Other risk factors include smoking, being physically inactive, being overweight, and some medications.

The processes that cause DVT are still not understood

DVT is usually treated by anticoagulant medication (such as heparin or warfarin), compression stockings, or in a minority of cases, placing a mesh filter in your vein to stop large pieces of the clot travelling to the heart and lungs.

Having a DVT means you’re at increased risk of another one, so you should keep taking anticoagulant medication, until your doctor says otherwise.

Research into DVT 

The processes that cause DVT are still not understood, and thanks to BHF funding, myself and my colleagues Dr Alexander Brill and Dr Phillip Nicolson at the University of Birmingham are working to change that. We have been exploring how small cells in the blood (platelets) are activated, how this may lead to DVT and ways to prevent activation without causing bleeding. We have identified a protein on the surface of the platelet, CLEC-2, which is involved in this. We’ve also identified a drug that is already used for another condition, which could be used to block platelet activation. 

Thanks to the BHF, we are doing some early tests on humans so we can go on to a clinical trial and help patients.

BHF Professor Steve Watson

Steve Watson is BHF Professor in Cardiovascular Sciences and Cellular Pharmacology at the University of Birmingham. He trained in pharmacology before working on platelets, cells in the bloodstream that prevent bleeding but cause thrombosis. He took up the BHF Chair in Birmingham in 2004. He researches pathways that lead to activation of platelets. He hopes to use this research to develop medicines to prevent thrombosis.

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