A deep vein thrombosis (DVT, also called venous thrombosis) is a blood clot that forms in a vein deep in your body. The clot may limit or completely block blood flow through the vein. Most DVTs form in the lower leg, thigh and pelvis. But, they can happen in other parts of the body, such as the arm, brain, intestines, liver and kidneys
A DVT, itself, is not life-threatening. But, the blood clot can break free and travel through the bloodstream and get stuck in a blood vessel inside your lung. This condition is called a pulmonary embolism and can be life-threatening. It is important to find out if you have a DVT as soon as possible and get treatment.
Another problem caused by a DVT is chronic venous insufficiency (also called post-thrombotic syndrome). This means the walls and/or valves of the veins in your legs aren’t working well. Blood collects in the veins and causes chronic leg swelling, increased pressure, dark or discolored skin, and open sores on the legs called venous stasis ulcers.
A superficial venous thrombosis (also called phlebitis or superficial thrombophlebitis) is a blood clot that develops in a vein close to the surface of the skin. These types of blood clots do not usually travel to the lungs unless they move from the superficial system into the deep venous system first.
DVT most commonly occurs in just one leg or one arm. Not everyone with DVT will experience symptoms, although when present, they may include:
Symptoms of a pulmonary embolism include:
Some people do not know they have DVT until the clot moves from their leg or arm and traveled to their lung.It is important to notify your doctor right away or go to the emergency room if you have symptoms of a pulmonary embolism or DVT. Do not wait to see if the symptoms will “go away.” Get treatment right away to prevent serious complications.
The following conditions can increase your risk of a DVT:
Having a central venous catheter or pacemaker.
An appointment to find out if you have a DVT includes an exam and review of your medical history. You will also need testing. Common tests to diagnose a DVT are:
A duplex venous ultrasound. This is the most common test used to diagnose a DVT. It shows the blood flow in the veins and any blood clots that exist. An ultrasound technician will apply pressure while scanning your arm or leg. If the pressure does not cause the vein to compress, it could mean there is a blood clot.
Venography. This test uses X-rays to show your deep veins. A special dye (contrast material) is injected into your veins so the X-rays show the veins and any blood clots. Any blockage in blood flow may also be seen. Venography may be used if the results of the duplex ultrasound aren’t clear.
Other tests you may have include:
If your doctor thinks you may have a genetic disorder that causes blood clots, you may need blood tests. This may be important if:
A DVT may make it harder for you to get around at first. You should slowly return to your normal activities. If your legs feel swollen or heavy, lie in bed with your heels propped up about 12.5 to 15 centimeters (5 to 6 inches). This helps improve circulation and decreases swelling.
Patients with a DVT may need to be treated in the hospital. Others may be able to have outpatient treatment.
Treatments include medications, compression stockings and elevating the affected leg. If the blood clot is extensive, you may need more invasive testing and treatment. The main goals of treatment are to:
Treatment for a DVT can include:
Anticoagulants (“blood thinners”). This type of medication makes it harder for your blood to clot. Anticoagulants also stop clots from getting bigger and prevent blood clots from moving.
Anticoagulants do not destroy clots. Your body may naturally dissolve a clot, but sometimes clots do not completely disappear.
There are different types of anticoagulants. Your doctor will talk to you about the best type of medication for you.
If you need to take an anticoagulant, you may only need to take it for 3 to 6 months. But, your treatment time may be different if:
The most common side effect of anticoagulants is bleeding. You should call your doctor right away if you notice that you bruise or bleed easily while taking this medication.
You will likely need to wear graduated compression stockings to get rid of leg swelling. The swelling is often because the valves in the leg veins are damaged or the vein is blocked by the DVT.
Most compression stockings are worn just below the knee. These stockings are tight at the ankle and become looser as they go up the leg. This causes gentle pressure (compression) on your leg.
Vena cava filters are used when you cannot take medications to thin your blood or if you have blood clots while taking this type of medication. The filter prevents blood clots from moving from the vein in your legs to the lung (pulmonary embolism). The filter is put in place during minor surgery. It is inserted through a catheter into a large vein in the groin or neck, then into the vena cava (the largest vein in the body). Once in place, the filter catches clots as they move through the body. This treatment helps prevent a pulmonary embolism, but does not prevent the formation of more clots.
After you have a DVT, you will need to reduce your risk of future clots by:
If you have never had a DVT, but have an increased risk of developing one, be sure to:
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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition.
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