Harvard Heart Letter

A direct drug hit with alteplase busts up leg clots

Catheters — thin plastic tubes that doctors route through the body's arteries and veins — can carry everything from tiny cameras to replacement heart valves. So why not clot-busting drugs?

That was the idea behind a Norwegian study that looked at nearly 200 people who had a blood clot in a leg vein (deep-vein thrombosis, or DVT). People with DVT usually take a blood thinner like warfarin to prevent the clot from growing and to stop new ones from forming. These drugs also keep the clot from fragmenting and traveling to the lungs — a potentially life-threatening complication known as a pulmonary embolism.

One thing blood thinners don't do is dissolve the clot. The longer it sits in the vein, the greater the chances it will permanently damage the blood vessel. This damage is called post-phlebitic syndrome. Up to 40% of people with DVT develop this problem, which causes leg achiness and heaviness, swelling and discoloration, and in severe cases, skin ulcers.

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »