Cheney's Clot Not Life Threatening

October 15, 2008, 11:06 AM

March 5, 2007 — -- The deep venous thrombosis (DVT) in Vice President Dick Cheney's left leg should not pose a major risk to his health, doctors said Monday.

DVT, or deep venous thrombosis, is a condition where there is a blood clot in a deep vein. It normally affects the veins in the lower leg and the thigh.

According to a statement issued by the White House, Cheney visited his doctor's office at the George Washington University Medical Faculty Associates on Monday afternoon after experiencing "mild calf discomfort."

The statement says that an ultrasound revealed the DVT -- a blood clot which had formed in his left lower leg -- and that his doctors will treat him with blood thinning medication for several months.

Cheney was not hospitalized, and, according to White House reports, he has returned to the White House to resume his schedule.

The clots formed in an episode of DVT can be dangerous in some cases, as they may interfere with circulation or break off and travel through the blood stream. If the clot breaks off, it can lodge in the brain, lungs, heart, or another organ of the body, causing severe damage.

Risk factors for DVT include sitting for long periods of time, such as on a long plane trip. Cheney recently spent long hours on planes, having just returned from a series of international visits.

ABC News medical editor Dr. Tim Johnson said on World News that the episode should not pose a serious threat to Cheney's health.

"They had to be pretty sure that it was not a problem to let him go back to work," Johnson said.

He added that if Cheney's calf pain indicated a clot that was below the knee, the risks are generally much better than if the clot had formed in a vein in the thigh, as clots migrating to vital organs from this point would pose more of a threat.

However, considering Cheney's medical history, it is unlikely that doctors will be taking any chances.

"I imagine they will be aggressive since he has a heart history," said Dr. James McKinsey, site chief of the Division of Vascular Surgery at Columbia University Medical Center. "I assume he has a weakened heart, and may not withstand the strain of a blood clot that travels to the lung, if one did."

Cheney's last physical on July 1, 2006 ended with the vice president receiving a clean bill of health. However, the vice president has also suffered a string of heart-related incidents over the past three decades.

Cheney has had four heart attacks, all of which occurred before he took office in 2001. The last heart attack occurred just after the 2000 presidential election on Nov. 30 of that year. The first happened in 1978, when he was 37 years old.

In 1988, a third heart attack prompted a quadruple bypass surgery. And his 2000 heart attack was followed by an angioplasty in 2001 to prop open a clogged artery.

And in 2001, Cheney had surgery to install a pacemaker. Cheney was also hospitalized for shortness of breath on November 13, 2004; however, he was released three hours later.

The goal of the treatment now, McKinsey said, is to prevent the clot from growing or breaking off. He says that the medications doctors likely have him on now will prevent more clots from forming.

The existing clot, he says, will probably dissolve naturally on its own in time.

One thing is certain -- doctors will not be recommending bed rest as part of his recovery.

"I think the main thing [for Cheney to avoid] is lack of mobility," McKinsey said. "He should avoid immobility since he is at risk for another clot.

"It should not be a major life threat at all if he remains active."

In coming weeks, doctors will likelty continue to monitor the status of the clot using ultrasound.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events