The history and historical treatments of deep vein thrombosis


Correspondence: Marc Righini, Division of Angiology and Hemostasis, Geneva University Hospital and Geneva Faculty of Medicine, 4, rue Gabrielle-Perret-Gentil, 1211 Geneva 14, Switzerland.

Tel. +41 22 372 92 94; fax: +41 22 372 92 99.



Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a common disease. However, unlike that of varicose veins, which have been depicted since antiquity in art and literature, its description was more recent in the history of medicine. The first well-documented case of DVT was reported during the Middle Ages: in 1271, Raoul developed a unilateral edema in the ankle, which then extended to the leg. The number of reported DVT cases steadily increased thereafter, particularly in pregnant and postpartum women. During the first half of the 20th century, well before the discovery of anticoagulants, many therapeutic approaches were used, and arose from the pathologic hypotheses that prevailed at their time. Despite the development of anticoagulants, and the fact that they were thought to dramatically decrease DVT mortality, numerous complementary treatments have also been developed during the last 50 years: they include vena cava clips and surgical thrombectomy, and are intended to decrease mortality or to prevent late complications. Most of these treatments have now been abandoned, or even forgotten. In this review, we recall also the discovery and the use of vitamin K antagonists and heparin, which have constituted the mainstay of treatment for decades. We also bring some perspective to historical aspects of this disease and its treatment, notably regarding elastic compression and early mobilization, but also abandoned and complementary treatments. In these times of change regarding DVT treatment, mainly marked by the arrival of new oral anticoagulants, efforts of physicians through the ages to treat this common disease provide a beautiful example of the history of knowledge.