Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or pulmonary embolism is a
potentially severe complication of spinal cord injury. There are changes in the normal neurologic
control of the blood vessels that can result in stasis or "sludging".
Deep vein thrombosis in the lower leg is almost universal during
the early phases of recovery and rehabilitation. Thromboses in
the thigh, however, are a great concern, as they are at risk for
becoming dislodged and passing through the vascular tree to the
lungs. A major obstruction of the arteries leading to the lung
can potentially be fatal. Therapeutic measures to reduce or
eliminate the risk for deep vein thrombosis include Ace wrapping
of the legs and the use of pneumatic compression stockings.
Medications administered subcutaneously, such as heparin, are
useful in reducing blood viscosity and improving flow. In the
event that a thrombosis develops, treatment is begun with
intravenous heparin. Once adequate anticoagulation is provided,
the patient is switched to an oral medication, called Coumadin.