Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a serious condition in which a blood clot forms in a deep vein inside your body. A blood clot is a clump of blood that’s turned into a solid state.

Hands with redness that may indicate DVT.Share on Pinterest
Hand edema thrombosis. Photo by the Emergency Medicine Department, Columbia University Medical Center, New York, NY, 10032, USA.

Deep vein blood clots typically form in your thigh or lower leg, but they can also develop in other areas of your body.

Other names associated with this condition may include:

  • thromboembolism
  • post-thrombotic syndrome
  • postphlebitic syndrome

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), symptoms of DVT only occur in about half of the people with this condition.

Common DVT symptoms include:

  • swelling in your foot, ankle, or leg, usually on one side
  • cramping pain in your affected leg that usually begins in your calf
  • severe, unexplained pain in your foot and ankle
  • an area of skin that feels warmer than the skin in the surrounding areas
  • the skin over the affected area turning pale or reddish, or bluish color, depending on skin tone

People with an upper extremity DVT, or a blood clot in the arm, may not experience symptoms. If they do, common symptoms include:

People may not find out they have DVT until they’ve undergone emergency treatment for a pulmonary embolism (blood clot in the lung).

A pulmonary embolism can happen when a DVT clot has moved from the arm or leg into the lung. When an artery in the lung becomes blocked, it’s life threatening and requires emergency care.

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Design by Diego Sabogal

DVT is caused by a blood clot. The clot blocks a vein, preventing blood from properly circulating in your body.

Different factors can lead to a DVT or increase the risk of developing it. They include:

  • Injury: Damage to a blood vessel’s wall can narrow or block blood flow. A blood clot may form as a result.
  • Surgery: Blood vessels can be damaged during surgery, leading to the development of a blood clot. Bed rest with little to no movement after surgery may also increase your risk of developing a blood clot.
  • Reduced mobility or inactivity: When you sit frequently, such as during a long flight, blood can collect in your legs, especially the lower parts. If you cannot move for extended periods, the blood flow in your legs can slow down. This can cause a clot to develop.
  • Certain medications: Some medications increase the chances your blood will form a clot. These include birth control pills, hormone therapy drugs, glucocorticoids, and antidepressants.
  • Age: DVT can still happen at any age, but the incidence rises in older ages. Only 1 in 10,000 people younger than age 20 get DVT, but among those older than age 80, it is 1 in 100.
  • Trauma: Having an injury that damages your veins, like a bone fracture, can cause a blood clot to develop.
  • Obesity. Being overweight can put more pressure on your legs and pelvis veins.
  • Pregnancy: Pregnancy increases the risk of DVT. In fact, pregnant people are 5-10 times more likely to develop DVT than those who aren’t pregnant.
  • Family history: Having relatives who have had DVT may make you more likely to get it.
  • Catheter: Having a catheter placed in a vein can increase the likelihood of a blood clot forming.
  • Smoking: This is associated with a higher risk of DVT.
  • Hereditary blood clotting disorders: Having a clotting disorder makes you more susceptible to DVT.
  • Cancer: Having pancreatic, lung, stomach, or brain cancer, as well as other cancers, puts you at risk of DVT, especially if you’re undergoing chemotherapy.

In addition, several other health conditions can increase the risk for DVT. These include

A major complication of DVT is a pulmonary embolism. You can develop a pulmonary embolism if a blood clot moves to your lungs and blocks a blood vessel.

This can cause serious damage to your lungs and other parts of your body. Get immediate medical help if you have signs of a pulmonary embolism. These signs include:

DVT is a serious medical condition. Tell your doctor immediately if you think you’re experiencing symptoms of DVT, or go to the closest emergency room. A healthcare professional can check out your symptoms.

DVT treatments focus on keeping the clot from growing. In addition, treatment may help prevent a pulmonary embolism and lower your risk of having more clots.


Your doctor might prescribe medications to thin your blood. The preferred treatment is with direct oral anticoagulants (DOACs) such as rivaroxaban (Xarelto) or apixaban (Eliquis).

Other drugs a doctor may use include:

Blood-thinning medications make it harder for your blood to clot. They also keep existing clots as small as possible and decrease the chance that you’ll develop more clots.

If blood thinners don’t work or the DVT is severe, your doctor might use thrombolytic drugs. People with upper extremity DVT may also benefit from this medication.

Thrombolytic drugs work by breaking up clots. You’ll receive these intravenously (through a vein).

Compression stockings

If you’re at high risk of DVT, wearing compression stockings can prevent swelling and might lower your chance of developing clots.

Compression stockings reach just below your knee or right above it. Your doctor may recommend you wear these every day.


If you cannot take blood thinners, you might need a filter inside the large abdominal vein called the vena cava. This treatment helps prevent pulmonary embolisms by stopping clots from entering your lungs.

Filters do have risks. If they’re left in for too long, they can actually increase the risk of DVT. Filters should be used for a short-term period until the risk of thromboembolism is reduced, and blood thinners can be used.


Your doctor may suggest surgery to remove a DVT clot in your arm or leg. This is typically only recommended with very large blood clots or clots that cause serious issues, like tissue damage.

During a surgical thrombectomy or surgery to remove a blood clot, your surgeon will make an incision into a blood vessel. They’ll locate and remove the clot. Then, they’ll repair the blood vessel and tissue.

In some cases, they may use a small inflating balloon to keep the blood vessel open while they remove the clot. When the clot is found and removed, the balloon is removed with it.

Surgery isn’t without risks, so many doctors will recommend it only in severe cases. Risks include:

  • infection
  • damage to the blood vessel
  • excess bleeding

Home remedies

Once a DVT blood clot is diagnosed, your doctor will likely prescribe medication to help thin the blood or break up the clot.

You can combine the prescribed medication with home remedies to prevent other complications and reduce the risk of future blood clots.

Move more

If possible, take daily walks to improve blood flow. Shorter, frequent walks are better than one long walk.

Keep your leg or arm elevated

This is especially important for the legs. Blood can pool if your feet are on the ground all day. Use a stool or chair to keep your legs elevated and close to level with your hips.

Wear compression stockings

These specially designed stockings fit tightly around your feet and become gradually looser as they move up your leg to your knee. The compression helps prevent pooling and swelling, and it increases blood flow.

Most people don’t need them, but people at high risk of DVT may find them useful. Compression stockings may be beneficial when you’re traveling.

Eat healthfully

Eating a nutrient-dense and balanced diet is important for helping to avoid life threatening complications.

A diet high in fiber, fruits, and vegetables, such as the Mediterranean diet, may be best for people at risk of DVT or those who’ve had DVT before, but research is needed to support this.

Some vitamins and minerals can interfere with DVT medications. For example, too much vitamin K can bypass warfarin’s ability to thin your blood and prevent a clot.

Review any vitamins or supplements you take with your doctor, and ask about possible medication interactions. It’s also important you talk with your doctor about any foods or nutrients you should avoid.

A healthy lifestyle incorporates many necessary changes to prevent blood clots from forming. This includes moving more, quitting smoking, and maintaining a moderate weight.

You can also lower your risk of having DVT by:

Take any blood thinners your doctor prescribes if you’re having surgery, which can lower your chance of developing clots afterward.

The risk of developing DVT during travel becomes higher if you sit for more than 4 hours. Moving your legs around when you’ve been sitting for a while also helps keep your blood flowing. Walking around after being on bed rest can prevent clots from forming.

Get out of your car during long drives and stretch at regular intervals. Walk in the aisles if you’re flying, taking a train, or riding a bus.

Stretch your legs and feet while you’re sitting. This keeps your blood moving steadily in your calves. Don’t wear tight clothes that can restrict blood flow. Complications of DVT are preventable.

Exercises for DVT

If you have to be seated for long periods, such as on a long flight, you can exercise to keep your legs moving and help circulate blood.

Knee pulls

Bend your leg, and raise your knee toward your chest. Wrap your knee with your arms for a greater stretch. Hold this position for several seconds, then do the same exercise on the other side.

Repeat these stretches several times.

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Gifs by Active Body. Creative Mind.

Foot pumps

Place your feet flat on the floor. Keeping the balls of your feet on the floor, raise your heels. Hold for a few seconds, then lower your heels.

Raise the balls of your feet off the floor, keeping your heels in place. Hold for a few seconds, then lower the balls of your feet.

Repeat these pumps several times.

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Ankle circles

Lift both feet off the floor. Draw circles with your toes in one direction for a few seconds. Switch directions, and draw circles for a few seconds.

Repeat this exercise several times.

Your doctor will use your medical history, a thorough physical exam, and one or more diagnostic tests to find or rule out DVT. These tests include:


This is the most commonly used test for diagnosing DVT. Ultrasound uses sound waves to create a picture of your arteries and veins to see how blood flows through them.

If a clot is present, your doctor can see the interrupted blood flow and make the diagnosis.


If the ultrasound is inconclusive, your doctor may order a venogram. During this test, a dye is injected into the vein in question. Then, an X-ray is taken over the area where your doctor suspects DVT is present.

The dye makes the vein more visible so that interrupted blood flow would be easily seen.

D-dimer test

A D-dimer blood test measures the presence of a substance released when a blood clot breaks apart.

If levels of the substance are high and you have risk factors for DVT, you likely have a clot. If levels are healthy and your risk factors are low, you likely don’t.

A D-dimer blood test can also indicate other factors, such as a pulmonary embolism, stroke, pregnancy, or infection, so your doctor may need to use other tests to be sure of a diagnosis.

Other tests can be used to diagnose DVT if these are not successful.

DVT is a serious condition that could be life threatening. Diagnosis can often be difficult, as many people with DVT do not experience symptoms.

If you don’t experience symptoms, you may even be at a greater risk for life threatening complications.

This is why it’s important to know the risk factors and share any symptoms with your doctor. They may prescribe medication or other therapies to help you treat DVT, but there are many things you can do on your own.

Moving regularly, wearing compression stockings, and adopting a balanced diet are key ways to manage DVT risk.