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What is a D-dimer Test and When Do You Need One?

Mar 4, 2022 7:22:37 PM Dr. Cindy Sturt
What is a D-dimer Test and When Do You Need One?

If you are currently or considering seeking treatment for vein and vascular issues, chances are you may have heard of a D-dimer test. However, if you are unsure what a D-dimer test is and how it works, you aren't alone! This post will answer some of your questions. Please keep in mind that this information is not meant to replace proper healthcare consultation but rather serve as a resource about the D-dimer test. 

What is a D-dimer Test? 

A D-dimer test is a blood test designed to help your doctor determine whether you are experiencing one or more blood clots. A phlebotomist (healthcare provider trained in drawing blood) will take a sample of blood from your veins. The blood is then sent to a laboratory to test the level of D-dimer present in your blood stream. This test can only be ordered by a licensed healthcare professional. 

When May You Need a D-dimer Test? 

D-dimer tests are ordered when your healthcare professional suspects that you may have one or more blood clotting conditions. Potential conditions include:

  • Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) - This type of blood clotting condition is characterized by a blood clot occurring in a deep vein instead of one near the surface. Although DVT can be found anywhere in the body, they are most commonly found in the legs and pelvis. 
  • Pulmonary Embolism (PE) - A pulmonary embolism occurs when a blood clot travels from another part of the body to the lungs. The most common places for the blood clot to originate are in the arms or legs, but this isn't always the case. 
  • Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation (DIC) - This is a very dangerous blood clotting condition characterized by a high number of blood clots that may be found anywhere in the body.
  • Stroke - One cause of stroke is when a blood clot develops or travels to the arteries supplying your brain.

If you are experiencing symptoms of one or more of the conditions above, your healthcare provider may order a D-dimer test as part of your work up towards an accurate diagnosis. 

What is D-dimer?

D-dimer is a piece of protein produced when a blood clot is broken down or dissolved in the body.

The level of D-dimer may indicate the presence of a blood clotting condition. If the results show you are likely to have a clotting condition, further diagnostic tests will be conducted to accurately diagnose and treat the condition.

What Do the Results Mean? 

In people who lack a blood clotting condition, the levels of D-dimer are extremely low or undetectable. On the other hand, if you have blood clots, then your body's natural defense mechanisms are working hard to break them down, so your D-dimer levels will be elevated. However, high D-dimer levels do not guarantee that you have a blood clotting condition.

The results of a D-dimer test may either show as positive or negative or fall into these ranges: 

  • Low
  • Normal
  • High

If your results are negative, low, or normal, the chances are good that you do not have a blood clotting issue. For those with high or positive D-dimer levels, your healthcare provider will order further testing (x-rays, CTs, ultrasounds, MRIs, etc.) to determine if you actually indeed have a clot and where.

Other causes of elevated D-dimers include recent surgery, pregnancy, infection, rheumatoid arthritis or cancer. People who have the above conditions may have an elevated D-dimer without the presence of a clotting condition. Furthermore, according to a study in Acad Emerg Med, the older a patient is, the more likely they are to have an elevated D-dimer test (without having a clot).

How Long Does It Take to Receive the Results of Your D-dimer Test? 

As with most blood tests, it will usually take 3-5 business days to receive your results if the test is completed as an outpatient. If you are getting this test done in the emergency room or as a patient admitted to the hospital, you will get the results within hours.

The D-dimer Test is Only Part of the Equation

The D-Dimer test alone cannot tell your healthcare professional everything they need know. It works in conjunction with other scans and tests so that your doctor can make an accurate diagnosis. For example, you may have high D-dimer levels, but your Venous Duplex Scan returned normal. The reason for this discrepancy is that the Venous Duplex Scan is an ultrasound that detects blood clots in your legs and other issues. However, if the blood clot is in another part of your body, the Venous Duplex Scan will not detect it, but a D-dimer test will. 

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