Deep Vein Thrombosis
What is deep vein thrombosis (DVT)?
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot or thrombus in a deep vein. These blood
clots are most common in the leg. But they may occur in the arm or other part of the
body. Part of a clot, called an embolus, can break off and travel to the lungs. This
is a serious condition called pulmonary embolus (PE). A PE can cut off blood flow
to all or part of the lung. PE is an emergency and may cause death.
Healthcare providers use the term venous thromboembolism (VTE) to describe these 2
conditions, DVT and PE. They use the term VTE because the 2 conditions are very closely
related. And because their prevention and treatment are also closely related.
What causes deep vein thrombosis?
The deep veins of the legs are located in the muscles. These help carry blood from
the legs to the heart. When leg muscles contract and relax, blood is squeezed through
the veins back to the heart. One-way valves inside the veins help keep the blood moving
in the right direction. When blood moves too slowly, it can collect (pool) in the
veins. This makes a clot more likely to form.
Who is at risk for deep vein thrombosis?
Anyone can develop a blood clot. But certain factors may raise your risk for one.
Anything that slows blood flow, causes injuries to the lining of a vein, or causes
increases in blood clotting can make you more likely to have DVT. You are at risk
for DVT if you:
Are overweight or obese
Have a blood-clotting disorder
Are older than age 60
Have spent a long period of time not moving, such as staying in the hospital or traveling
on a long trip
Take birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy
Have a central venous catheter (for example, in a large vein in the chest)
You are also at higher risk if you have certain diseases and conditions, such as:
Previous blood clot
Heart problems, such as heart failure or heart attack
Inflammatory bowel disease
Lupus, an autoimmune system disease
Cancer and some cancer treatments
What are the symptoms of deep vein thrombosis?
DVT may happen without symptoms. When symptoms do happen, they may be sudden. They
may appear around the site of the DVT, such as the calf or thigh. You may have these
Pain, especially deep in the muscle
Soreness or aching
Redness and warmth in the leg, arm, or other area
These symptoms may mean that you have a blood clot. The symptoms of a blood clot may
also look like other health problems. Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
How is deep vein thrombosis diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will ask about your health history and do a physical exam.
You may also need these other tests:
Duplex ultrasound. This procedure involves placing ultrasound gel on the affected area and then moving
a handheld device across it. A picture of the blood flow is displayed on a screen.
Duplex ultrasound is the most common test for DVT.
Blood tests. Blood tests may be done to look for blood clotting and other problems.
How is deep vein thrombosis treated?
Treatment will depend on your symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend
on how severe the condition is.
The goals of treatment are:
To prevent the clot from getting larger
To stop the clot from traveling to your lungs
To lower the chance of another blood clot forming
Treatment may include:
Blood thinners (anticoagulant medicines). These medicines lower the ability of the blood to clot. They are a main treatment
for DVT. These medicines may be given as a shot, through an IV (intravenous) line
into a vein, or in pill form. The most common side effect of blood-thinning medicine
Clot busters (fibrinolytics or thrombolytics). These medicines are used to break up clots.
Inferior vena cava filter. In some cases, a filter is placed in the vena cava. This is the large vein that returns
blood from the body to the heart. This filter prevents clots from reaching the heart
What are possible complications of deep vein thrombosis?
The possible complications of DVT are:
Pulmonary embolus. This can cut off blood flow to all or part of the lung. PE may develop quickly. It's
a medical emergency and may cause death.
Chronic venous insufficiency. This may happen after a blood clot in a leg vein. It means that a vein no longer
works well. It's a long-term condition where blood pools in the vein instead of flowing
back to the heart. Pain and swelling in the leg are common symptoms.
Post-thrombotic syndrome. This health problem may also happen after a blood clot in a leg vein. It may occur
in the weeks or months following a DVT. It's a long-term problem. It causes pain,
swelling, and redness. Ulcers and sores can also develop. All these symptoms may make
it hard to walk and take part in daily activities.
How can I help prevent deep vein thrombosis?
You can help prevent DVT with these steps:
Take blood thinners, if your healthcare provider has prescribed them for you.
Wiggle your toes and move your ankles if you sit or lie down for long periods of time.
Walk. Get up and move as soon as possible after surgery or illness.
Wear elastic or compression stockings, if your healthcare provider has prescribed
If you are in the hospital, your risk for blood clots increases. Your healthcare provider
may prescribe the use a sequential compression device (SCD) or intermittent pneumatic
compression (IPC). Special sleeves go around both legs. They are attached to a device
that applies gentle pressure to the legs. Remove the sleeves so that you don't trip
or fall when you are walking, such as when you use the bathroom or shower. Ask for
help if you can’t remove and replace the sleeves.
When you travel and must sit for long periods of time, you can lower your risk of
a blood clot by:
Walking up and down the aisles (if traveling by plane or bus)
Stopping about every hour and walking a little (if traveling by car)
Moving your legs, ankles, and toes while sitting
Wearing loose clothing
Limiting the amount of alcohol you drink
Drinking a lot of water and other healthy drinks
Talking with your healthcare provider about a program of regular exercise
Staying at a healthy weight
Quitting smoking, if you smoke
When should I call my healthcare provider?
If you have symptoms that may indicate a blood clot in the lungs, call 911 or get
emergency help. Symptoms of a blood clot in the lungs include:
If you are taking blood thinners, report bruising or bleeding to your healthcare provider
right away or get medical care right away. Symptoms may include:
Key points about deep vein thrombosis
DVT is a blood clot or thrombus in a deep vein. These blood clots are most common
in the leg. But they can develop in other parts of the body.
When blood moves too slowly, it can pool in the veins. This makes a clot more likely
Some risk factors for DVT are being overweight, being older than age 60, and spending
a long period of time not moving, such as while staying in a hospital.
The symptoms of DVT are pain, swelling, and redness in the leg, arm, or other area.
Treatment may include medicines such as blood thinners and clot busters.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.
Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells
At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments,
or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you.
Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how it will help you. Also
know what the side effects are.
Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.
Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that
Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.