FactsDeep Vein Thrombosis and Pulmonary Embolism (DVT/PE) are often underdiagnosed and serious, but preventable medical conditions.
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a medical condition that occurs when a blood clot forms in a deep vein. These clots usually develop in the lower leg, thigh, or pelvis, but they can also occur in the arm.
It is important to know about DVT because it can happen to anybody and can cause serious illness, disability, and in some cases, death. The good news is that DVT is preventable and treatable if discovered early.
Complications of DVT
DVT and PE
In addition, nearly one-third of people who have a DVT will have long-term complications caused by the damage the clot does to the valves in the vein called post-thrombotic syndrome (PTS). People with PTS have symptoms such as swelling, pain, discoloration, and in severe cases, scaling or ulcers in the affected part of the body. In some cases, the symptoms can be so severe that a person becomes disabled.
For some people, DVT and PE can become a chronic illness; about 30% of people who have had a DVT or PE are at risk for another episode.
Risk Factors for DVTAlmost anyone can have a DVT. However, certain factors can increase the chance of having this condition. The chance increases even more for someone who has more than one of these factors at the same time.
Following is a list of factors that increase the risk of developing DVT:
- Injury to a vein, often caused by:
- Severe muscle injury, or
- Major surgery (particularly involving the abdomen, pelvis, hip, or legs).
- Slow blood flow, often caused by:
- Confinement to bed
(e.g., due to a medical condition or after surgery);
- Limited movement (e.g., a cast on a leg to help heal an injured bone);
- Sitting for a long time, especially with crossed legs; or
- Confinement to bed
- Increased estrogen, often caused by:
- Birth control pills
- Hormone replacement therapy, sometimes used after menopause
- Pregnancy, for up to 6 weeks after giving birth
- Certain chronic medical illnesses, such as:
- Heart disease
- Lung disease
- Cancer and its treatment
- Inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis)
- Other factors that increase the risk of DVT include:
- Previous DVT or PE
- Family history of DVT or PE
- Age (risk increases as age increases)
- High blood pressure
- A catheter located in a central vein
- Inherited clotting disorders
Preventing DVTThe following tips can help prevent DVT:
- Move around as soon as possible after having been confined to bed, such as after surgery, illness, or injury.
- If you’re at risk for DVT, talk to your doctor about:
- Graduated compression stockings (sometimes called “medical compression stockings”)
- Medication (anticoagulants) to prevent DVT.
- When sitting for long periods of time, such as when traveling for more than four hours:
- Get up and walk around every 2 to 3 hours.
- Exercise your legs while you’re sitting by:
- Raising and lowering your heels while keeping your toes on the floor
- Raising and lowering your toes while keeping your heels on the floor
- Tightening and releasing your leg muscles
- Wear loose-fitting clothes.
- Drink plenty of water, and avoid drinking anything with alcohol or caffeine in it.
DVTAbout half of people with DVT have no symptoms at all. The following are the most common symptoms of DVT that occur in the affected part of the body:
- Redness of the skin
PEYou can have a PE without any symptoms of a DVT.
Signs and symptoms of PE can include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Faster than normal or irregular heart beat
- Chest pain or discomfort, which usually worsens with a deep breath or coughing
- Coughing up blood
- Very low blood pressure, lightheadedness, or fainting
Diagnosis of DVT and PEThe diagnosis of DVT or PE requires special tests that can only be performed by a doctor. That is why it is important for you to seek medical care if you experience any of the symptoms of DVT or PE.
Learn more about diagnosis »
Treatments for DVT and PE
DVTMedication is used to prevent and treat DVT. Compression stockings (also called graduated compression stockings) are sometimes recommended to prevent DVT and relieve pain and swelling. These might need to be worn for 2 years or more after having DVT. In severe cases, the clot might need to be removed surgically.
PEEmergency treatment at a hospital is necessary to treat PE. In cases of severe, life-threatening PE, there are medicines that can dissolve the clot (thrombolytics) and medicines that prevent more clots from forming (anticoagulants). Surgery is sometimes needed for patients at great risk for another PE.
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