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Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a serious condition that occurs when a blood clot forms in a vein located deep inside your body. A blood clot is a clump of blood that’s turned to a solid state.
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, and postphlebitic syndrome.
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- 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 on the surrounding areas
- skin over the affected area turning pale or a reddish or bluish color
People with an upper extremity DVT, or a blood clot in the arm, may also not experience symptoms. If they do, common symptoms include:
- neck pain
- shoulder pain
- swelling in the arm or hand
- blue-tinted skin color
- pain that moves from the arm to the forearm
- weakness in the hand
People may not find out that they have deep vein thrombosis until they’ve gone through 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 a life-threatening condition and requires emergency care.
DVT is caused by a blood clot. The clot blocks a vein, preventing blood from properly circulating in your body. Clotting may occur for several reasons. These 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, which can lead to the development of a blood clot. Bed rest with little to no movement after surgery may also increase your risk for developing a blood clot.
- Reduced mobility or inactivity. When you sit frequently, blood can collect in your legs, especially the lower parts. If you’re unable to move for extended periods of time, 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.
DVT is a serious medical condition. Tell your doctor right away if you think you’re experiencing symptoms of DVT or go to the closest emergency room. A healthcare provider 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 that thin your blood, like heparin, warfarin (Coumadin), enoxaparin (Lovenox), or fondaparinux (Arixtra). This makes it harder for your blood to clot. It also keeps existing clots as small as possible and decreases the chance that you’ll develop more clots.
If blood thinners don’t work, or if you have a severe case of DVT, 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. Read more about these drugs and how they can help prevent and destroy blood clots.
If you’re at high risk for 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.
You might need to have a filter put inside the large abdominal vein called the vena cava if you aren’t able to take blood thinners. This form of treatment helps prevent pulmonary embolisms by stopping clots from entering your lungs.
But filters do have risks. If they’re left in for too long, they can actually cause DVT. Filters should be used for a short-term period, until the risk of thromboembolism is reduced and blood thinning medications can be used.
Your doctor may suggest surgery to remove a DVT clot in your arm or leg. This is typically only recommended in the case of very large blood clots or clots that are causing 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 only use this treatment in severe cases. Risks include infection, damage to the blood vessel, and excess bleeding.
The longer you sit, the greater your risk of developing a blood clot. If you have to be seated for long periods, there are exercises you can do while sitting to keep your legs moving and help circulate blood.
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.
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 the 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.
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.
Once a DVT blood clot is diagnosed, your doctor will likely prescribe a medication to help thin the blood or break up the clot. You can combine the prescribed medication with the following home remedies to prevent other complications and reduce the risk of future blood clots.
Take walks daily to improve blood flow. Shorter, frequent walks are better than one longer walk.
Keep your leg or arm elevated
This is especially important for 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 for DVT may find them useful. Compression stockings may be beneficial when you’re traveling. Read more about how they help.
DVT occurs most commonly in people who are over 50 years of age. But they can still happen at any age. Certain conditions that alter how your blood moves through your veins can raise your risk of developing clots. These include:
- having an injury that damages your veins, like a bone fracture
- being overweight, which puts more pressure on the veins in your legs and pelvis
- having a family history of DVT
- having a catheter placed in a vein
- taking birth control pills or undergoing hormone therapy
- smoking (especially heavily)
- staying seated for a long time while you’re in a car or on a plane, especially if you already have at least one other risk factor
Some conditions can increase your risk of having blood clots. These include hereditary blood clotting disorders, especially when you have at least one other risk factor. Cancer and inflammatory bowel disease can also increase the risk of developing a blood clot.
Heart failure, a condition that makes it more difficult for your heart to pump blood, also causes an increased risk of clots.
DVT is a major risk associated with surgery. This is especially true if you’re having a surgery in the lower extremities, like joint replacement surgery.
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.
Take any blood thinners your doctor prescribes if you’re having surgery, as this can lower your chance of developing clots afterward.
The risk of developing DVT during travel becomes higher if you’re sitting for more than four hours. Lower your risk by moving around every so often. Get out of your car and stretch at intervals during long drives. 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. Learn how you can cut your risk.
Your doctor will use your medical history, a thorough physical exam, as well as 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 in order to see how blood flows through them.
If a clot is present, your doctor will be able to 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 interrupted blood flow would be easily seen.
A D-dimer blood test measures the presence of a substance that’s 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 normal and your risk factors are low, you likely don’t.
Other tests can be used to diagnose DVT if these aren’t successful. Read more about each of them and how they can help your doctor find a blood clot.
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:
- chest pain that gets worse with coughing or inhaling deeply
- rapid breathing
- coughing up blood
- rapid heart rate
Many complications of DVT can be prevented. Read more about why they occur and what you can do to avoid them.
Being pregnant increases your risk of DVT. In fact, pregnant women are
While pregnant, the level of blood-clotting proteins increases, and the level of anticlotting proteins falls. Plus, increased hormone levels, and a slower blood flow as your uterus expands and restricts blood flowing back from your lower extremities, contribute to this risk.
The elevated risk continues until about six weeks after giving birth. Being on bed rest or having a cesarean delivery also increases your risk of having DVT.
Remain watchful for symptoms of DVT while you’re pregnant. Read about these symptoms and what to do if you experience them.
Your risk of developing blood clots is higher when flying because sitting for long periods of time increases the chances of DVT.
The longer the flight, the greater the risk. It’s especially significant for people taking flights that last more than eight hours. Your risk also increases if you’re flying and already have other risk factors for DVT.
These measures can help you reduce your risk for a blood clot while flying:
- Sit in an exit row or bulkhead seat so you have more room to stretch and move your legs.
- Wear compression stockings, which reduce blood pooling and help maintain blood flow.
- Take any prescription blood thinners or aspirin as prescribed by your doctor.
- Do exercises with your feet and legs to keep blood flowing.
- Get up and walk around the cabin during the flight.
Symptoms of a blood clot may not develop immediately after flying. Read more about when symptoms might occur after a flight and how you should treat them.
A healthy lifestyle is important for preventing DVT and helping to avoid life-threatening complications. Plus, a healthy lifestyle incorporates many of the changes that are necessary to prevent blood clots. This includes moving more, quitting smoking, and losing weight.
You can lower your risk for DVT and blood clots with a healthy diet. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains deliver essential vitamins and minerals.
A vegan, vegetarian, or Mediterranean diet may be best for people at risk of DVT or people who’ve had DVT before, but research is needed to support this. Eating these herbs in small amounts may help you reduce your risk of DVT, too.
But 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 interactions with medications. It’s also important you talk with your doctor about any foods or nutrients you should avoid.