Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot in one or more of the deep veins of your body. They usually occur in the legs. You may not have any symptoms with this condition, or you may have leg swelling or leg pain. The pain usually occurs in the calf and feels like a cramp.

Drugs can treat an existing deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or prevent one from forming if you’re at risk. If you need therapy with DVT medications, you’re probably wondering what your options are.

Most DVT medications are anticoagulant drugs. Anticoagulants interfere with some part of your body’s process that causes blood clots to form. This process is called the clotting cascade.

Anticoagulants can be used to help prevent DVTs from forming. They can also help treat DVTs that have already formed. They do not dissolve DVTs, but they do help prevent them from getting bigger. This effect allows your body to break the clots down naturally. Anticoagulants also help reduce your chance of getting another DVT. You will likely use anticoagulants for at least three months for both prevention and treatment. There are a number of anticoagulants that are used to prevent and treat DVT. Some of these drugs have been around for a long time. However, many of these drugs are newer.

Older anticoagulants

Two older anticoagulants used to help prevent and treat DVT are heparin and warfarin. Heparin comes as a solution that you inject with a syringe. Warfarin comes as a pill you take by mouth. Both of these drugs work well to prevent and treat DVT. However, if you take either of these drugs, your healthcare provider will need to monitor you often.

Newer anticoagulants

Newer anticoagulant medications can also help prevent and treat DVT. They come as both oral pills and injectable solutions. They affect a different part of the clotting cascade than the older anticoagulants do. The following table lists these newer anticoagulants.

These older and newer DVT drugs have several differences. For example, you don’t need as many tests to see if your blood-thinning level is in the right range with these newer anticoagulants as you would with warfarin or heparin. They also have fewer negative interactions with other drugs than warfarin or heparin does. The newer anticoagulants also aren’t affected by your diet or dietary changes like warfarin is.

However, the older drugs are less expensive than the newer drugs. The newer drugs are only available as brand-name drugs. Many insurance companies require a prior approval of these medications. This means that your doctor may have to contact the insurance company to provide information before you can have the prescription filled.

The long-term effects of the newer drugs are not known like they are for warfarin and heparin.

DVT is more likely to happen in people who move less than normal. These include people who have limited movement from surgery, accident, or injury. Older people who may not move around as much are also at risk.

You may also be at risk for a DVT if you have a condition that affects how your blood clots.

What can happen if I have a DVT and don’t treat it?

If you don’t treat DVT, the clot can get bigger and break loose. If the clot breaks loose, it can flow in your bloodstream through your heart and into the small blood vessels of your lungs. This can cause a pulmonary embolism. The clot can lodge itself and block the blood flow to your lungs. A pulmonary embolism can cause death.

DVT is a serious condition and you should follow your doctor’s advice for treatment.

Learn more: Deep vein thrombosis: Symptoms, treatment, and prevention »

There are many drugs available now to help you prevent and treat DVT. The drug that is right for you may depend on your medical history, the drugs that you currently take, and what your insurance plan covers. You should discuss all of these things with your doctor so they can prescribe the drug that is best for you.