Venous Thromboembolism Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)
Call your healthcare provider right away if you think you may have symptoms of deep vein thrombosis, or DVT. DVT should be taken seriously, as it may lead to a life-threatening pulmonary embolism (PE).
What is DVT?
DVT is the most common type of venous thromboembolism (VTE). It occurs when a blood clot forms in a deep vein, usually in the lower leg, thigh, or pelvis.
What are the symptoms of DVT?
You may notice these symptoms of DVT around the area of a blood clot in your leg:
- Pain or tenderness
- Cramping, aching, or increased warmth
- Red or discolored skin
How is DVT diagnosed?
Your provider will diagnose DVT based on your symptoms, medical history, a physical exam, and various imaging or blood test results.
- D-dimer tests measure a substance in the blood that is released when the fibrin (proteins that help stop bleeding) in a blood clot dissolve. If the test shows high levels of the substance, you may have DVT. These tests may be used as a first step to look for signs of a blood clot in otherwise healthy people.
- Compression ultrasound looks for blood clots in the deep veins of your legs. This test uses sound waves to create pictures of blood flowing in your veins. The person doing the test may press on your veins to see whether the veins compress normally or are stiff with blood clots.
- Magnetic resonance venography uses a specialized magnet to take images of your veins. Your provider will need to give you a special dye through an intravenous tube (IV) before the test. This test is usually only used if your provider cannot diagnose DVT from the compression ultrasonography results.
What causes DVT?
DVT may occur if the flow of blood slows down in your body’s deep veins, if something damages the blood vessel lining, or if the makeup of the blood itself changes so that blood clots form more easily.
Many factors can raise the likelihood of blood clotting in the deep veins of the legs.
- Age: DVT can occur at any age, but the chances rise as you get older.
- Family history: Some you may raise your likelihood of developing blood clots.
- Not moving for long periods of time: DVT can develop during a long flight or when a person is on bed rest in a nursing home, hospital setting, or after surgery. The chance of developing a blood clot is highest in the first 3 months after surgery and lowers with time. Ask your healthcare provider about prevention plans if you are scheduled for major surgery.
- Medical conditions: A blood clotting disorder, immune illnesses such as lupus, heart problems, , or serious illness such as getting infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, can raise the likelihood of DVT.
- Sex: Women in their childbearing years are more likely than men to develop blood clots. The chance is higher for pregnant women and women who take birth control pills or get hormone therapy. After menopause, women’s risk is lower than men’s.
How is DVT treated?
Most people can treat DVT with medicines at home. Sometimes, more serious blood clots require you to stay in the hospital for treatment.
Your healthcare provider will likely prescribe blood-thinning medicine to keep blood clots from getting larger and prevent a DVT from becoming a life-threatening pulmonary embolism. If you are unable to take blood thinners, other medicines or procedures can help. Learn more about treatments for DVT.
As you recover from DVT, talk to your provider about what you can do to stay healthy.
- Be aware of possible complications. A condition called post-thrombotic syndrome can develop following DVT. If you experience pain, itchiness, or swelling, tell your healthcare provider.
- Prevent a repeat DVT. Talk with your provider about your risk, get regular checkups, and take all medicines as prescribed to help lower your chance of having repeat blood clots.
- Make healthy lifestyle changes. Talk to your provider about changes you may need to make, including choosing heart-healthy foods, getting physically active, aiming for a healthy weight, and quitting smoking.
- Take care of your mental health. Anxiety, fear, and stress can be common after a blood clot. Reach out to your healthcare provider if you need support.