Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a serious condition in which blood clots form in one of your body’s major veins. It can affect anyone, but some people are at a higher risk for DVT than others.
DVT develops when a blood clot forms in a deep vein, typically in one of your legs. These clots are extremely dangerous. They can break off and travel to your lungs and become potentially life-threatening. This condition is known as pulmonary embolism (PE). Other names for the condition include:
- postthrombotic syndrome
- postphlebitic syndrome
Read on to learn more about the risk factors for DVT and what you can do to reduce your risk.
DVT occurs most commonly in people age 50 and over. It’s also more commonly seen in people who:
- are overweight or obese
- are pregnant or in the first six weeks postpartum
- have a family history of DVT
- have a catheter placed in a vein
- have an injury to a deep vein
- have recently had surgery
- take certain birth control pills or are receiving hormone therapy
- smoke, especially if you’re also overweight
- stay seated for long periods of time, such as during a long plane ride
- have sustained a recent fracture involving the pelvis, hips, or lower extremities
Knowing your risks and taking appropriate steps can prevent many cases of DVT.
General tips for preventing DVT
The following lifestyle changes may help reduce your risk for DVT:
- see your doctor for regular checkups
- maintain a healthy weight
- stay active
- maintain healthy blood pressure
- don’t smoke
- avoid sitting for long periods of time
- stay hydrated
Preventing DVT while traveling
Your risk of developing DVT is slightly higher when you travel, particularly if you sit for more than four hours at a time. When driving, regular breaks are recommended. The following precautions should be taken when flying, or traveling by bus or train:
- Move around as often as possible by walking in the aisles when allowed.
- Avoid crossing your legs.
- Avoid wearing tight clothes that can restrict blood flow.
- Stay hydrated and avoid alcohol before and during travel.
- Stretch legs and feet while sitting.
The rate of DVT for people admitted to the hospital is higher than among the general population. This is because hospitalization often results in long periods of immobility. To prevent DVT while hospitalized or after surgery:
- Resume activity as soon as possible.
- Stay hydrated.
- Use compression hose or boots while in bed.
- Take blood thinners.
Women who are pregnant or who have recently given birth are at a higher risk for DVT. This is due to hormone changes that make the blood clot more easily and impaired circulation due to the pressure the baby puts on your blood vessels. While the risk can’t be eliminated entirely, it can be minimized by taking the following actions:
- Keep active.
- Avoid long periods of sitting. If your doctor has recommended bed rest, talk to them about things you can do to reduce your risk for DVT.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Stay hydrated.
- Wear compression stockings.
- Exercise. Low-impact exercises like swimming and prenatal yoga are often safe during pregnancy. Check with your doctor before beginning any exercise regimen while pregnant.
It’s possible, and common, to have DVT without showing any symptoms. Some people, however, experience the following:
- swelling in the foot, ankle or leg, usually on one side
- cramping pain, which typically begins in the calf
- severe, unexplained pain in your foot or ankle
- a patch of skin that feels warmer to the touch than skin surrounding it
- a patch of skin that turns pale, or turns a reddish or bluish color
Symptoms of PE
Many cases of PE have no symptoms, either. In fact, in about 25 percent of cases, sudden death is the first symptom of PE, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Signs of PE that may be recognizable include:
- chest pain that becomes worse after coughing or deep inhales
- rapid breathing
- coughing up blood
- rapid heart rate
See a doctor as soon as possible if you suspect DVT or PE. Your doctor will review your medical history and perform a physical examination. They also may recommend the following tests:
DVT can be treated in many cases. Most cases are treated with blood thinners, such as heparin and warfarin to dissolve the clot and prevent others from forming. Compression stockings and lifestyle changes may be recommended as well. These can include:
- keeping active
- quitting smoking
- maintaining a healthy weight
If blood thinners aren’t effective, a vena cava filter may be recommended. This filter is designed to catch blood clots before they enter the lungs. It’s inserted inside a large vein called the vena cava.
DVT is a serious condition that can be life-threatening. However, it’s largely preventable and treatable.
Knowing the signs and symptoms of DVT and your risk for developing it are key to prevention.