This potentially serious condition can occur with few or no symptoms. Know the risk factors.
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) occurs when a blood clot (thrombus) forms in one or more of the deep veins in the body, usually in the legs. Deep vein thrombosis can cause leg pain or swelling. Sometimes there are no noticeable symptoms.
You can get DVT if you have certain medical conditions that affect how the blood clots. A blood clot in the legs can also develop if you don't move for a long time. For example, you might not move a lot when traveling a long distance or when you're on bed rest due to surgery, an illness or an accident.
Deep vein thrombosis can be serious because blood clots in the veins can break loose. The clots can then travel through the bloodstream and get stuck in the lungs, blocking blood flow (pulmonary embolism). When DVT and pulmonary embolism occur together, it's called venous thromboembolism (VTE).
A blood clot in a leg vein may cause pain, warmth and tenderness in the affected area.
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) symptoms can include:
Deep vein thrombosis can occur without noticeable symptoms.
If you develop symptoms of DVT, contact your health care provider.
If you develop symptoms of a pulmonary embolism (PE) — a life-threatening complication of deep vein thrombosis — seek emergency medical help.
The warning signs and symptoms of a pulmonary embolism include:
A pulmonary embolism (PE) occurs when a blood clot gets stuck in an artery in the lung, blocking blood flow to part of the lung. Blood clots most often start in the legs and travel up through the right side of the heart and into the lungs. This is called deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
Anything that prevents the blood from flowing or properly clotting can cause a blood clot.
The main causes of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) are damage to a vein from surgery or inflammation and damage due to infection or injury.
Many things can increase the risk of developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT). The more risk factors you have, the greater your risk of DVT. Risk factors for DVT include:
Sometimes, a blood clot in a vein can occur with no identifiable risk factor. This is called an unprovoked VTE.
Complications of DVT can include:
Pulmonary embolism (PE). PE is a potentially life-threatening complication associated with DVT. It occurs when a blood clot (thrombus) in a leg or other body area breaks free and gets stuck in a blood vessel in a lung.
Get immediate medical help if you have symptoms of PE. They include sudden shortness of breath, chest pain while breathing in or coughing, rapid breathing, rapid pulse, feeling faint or fainting, and coughing up blood.
Lifestyle changes may help prevent deep vein thrombosis. Try these strategies:
Move your legs. If you've had surgery or have been on bed rest, try to move as soon as possible. Don't cross your legs while sitting. Doing so can block blood flow.
When traveling, take frequent breaks to stretch your legs. When on a plane, stand or walk occasionally. If you're traveling by car, stop every hour or so and walk around. If you can't walk, do lower leg exercises. Raise and lower your heels while keeping your toes on the floor. Then raise your toes while keeping your heels on the floor.
To diagnose DVT, your health care provider will do a physical exam and ask questions about your symptoms. The provider will check the legs for swelling, tenderness or changes in skin color.
The tests you have depend on whether your provider thinks you are at a low or a high risk of DVT.
Tests used to diagnose or rule out DVT include:
There are three main goals to DVT treatment.
DVT treatment options include:
Blood thinners. These medicines, also called anticoagulants, help prevent blood clots from getting bigger. Blood thinners reduce the risk of developing more clots.
Blood thinners may be taken by mouth or given by IV or an injection under the skin. There are many different types of blood-thinning drugs used to treat DVT. Together, you and your health care provider will discuss their benefits and risks to determine the best one for you.
You might need to take blood thinner pills for three months or longer. It's important to take them exactly as prescribed to prevent serious side effects.
People who take a blood thinner called warfarin (Jantoven) need regular blood tests to monitor levels of the drug in the body. Certain blood-thinning medications are not safe to take during pregnancy.
Clot busters (thrombolytics). These drugs are used for more-serious types of DVT or PE, or if other medications aren't working.
Clot busters are given by IV or through a tube (catheter) placed directly into the clot. They can cause serious bleeding, so they're usually only used for people with severe blood clots.
Compression stockings, also called support stockings, press on the legs, improving blood flow. A stocking butler may help with putting on the stockings.
After DVT treatment, follow these tips to manage the condition and prevent complications or more blood clots:
DVT is considered a medical emergency. It's important to get treated quickly. If there's time before your appointment, here's some information to help you get ready.
Make a list of:
If possible, take a family member or friend with you to help you remember the information you're given.
For DVT, questions to ask your health care provider include:
Your health care provider is likely to ask you questions, such as: