Understanding the Basics of May Thurner Syndrome


May Thurner syndrome occurs when the right iliac artery crosses over the left iliac vein. Occasionally, this can lead to compression of the iliac vein at that location. This change in anatomy increases the chance of developing a deep vein thrombosis (DVT).


Symptoms of May Thurner Syndrome

Symptoms of May Thurner can include pain and/or swelling. May Thurner syndrome occurs more commonly in women aged 20 to 50 years. Often it is diagnosed during the treatment of DVT.

Increased Risk of Blood Clots

Compression of the left common iliac vein causes irritation/injury to the blood vessel, resulting in the thickening of the blood vessel wall. This thickening of the blood vessel wall causes pooling of the blood (also called stasis), which increases the risk of clot formation. This risk factor, combined with other risk factors for clot formation, such as hormonal contraception (birth control pills) or prolonged inability to walk after surgery, may further increase this risk.


Diagnosing May Thurner syndrome can not be made with ultrasound, as it is a difficult place to see with that modality. May Thurner syndrome should be considered as the cause for an unprovoked (without known cause like trauma or infection) blood clot in the left leg, particularly if there has been more than one clot in the left leg.

Diagnosis generally requires more specific imaging of the pelvic blood vessels, such as CT (CAT) venography or magnetic resonance venography (MRI of the veins). Intravascular ultrasound (ultrasound within the blood vessel) can be very helpful in visualizing the compression of the left common iliac vein.

After discovering May Thurner syndrome, most experts will recommend a work-up looking for other risk factors for clot formation. This is often called a hypercoagulable work-up.

Treatment Options

If a blood clot is present, treatment with anticoagulation is required. Unfortunately, long-term treatment with anticoagulation (blood thinners like heparin, enoxaparin, or warfarin) is not sufficient, because the clot must be removed to prevent the development of post-thrombotic syndrome. Treatment with “clot-buster” medication like tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) or thrombectomy (mechanical removal of the clot) is often required at the time of diagnosis; tPA is often delivered via a catheter directly to the area of clot. These procedures are likely to be performed by an interventional radiologist or a vascular surgeon.

Treating the blood clot is only one part of the treatment. Removing the blood clot will not treat the underlying problem of the left common iliac vein being compressed, putting it at high risk of clot formation. To prevent further blood clot formation, a stent—a small wire mesh—may be placed to keep the vein open. These treatments (tPA, thrombectomy, placement of a stent) may occur at the same time as intravascular ultrasound, allowing confirmation of the diagnosis and definitive treatment.

In the immediate period (up to 3-6 months) after stent placement, anticoagulation treatment will be continued but may not be required long term.

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