What is deep vein thrombosis (DVT)?
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot (thrombus) in a deep vein, usually in the legs. These clots require medical care right away.
These clots are dangerous because they can break loose, travel through the bloodstream to the lungs, and block blood flow in the lungs (pulmonary embolism). Pulmonary embolism is often life-threatening. DVT can also lead to long-lasting problems. It may damage the vein and cause the area near the clot to ache, swell, and change color.
Blood clots most often form in the calf and thigh veins, and less often in the arm veins or pelvic veins. Diagnosis and treatment of DVT in other parts of the body are similar.
What are the symptoms of deep vein thrombosis (DVT)?
DVT often doesn't cause symptoms. Or it may cause only minor ones. When symptoms happen, they include:
- Swelling in the affected area of the leg or arm.
- Redness and warmth in the affected area.
- Pain or tenderness. You may have pain only when you touch the affected area or when you stand or walk.
Sometimes a pulmonary embolism is the first sign that you have DVT.
If your doctor thinks you may have DVT, you will probably have an ultrasound test. You may have other tests as well.
What increases your risk for deep vein thrombosis (DVT)?
Many things increase your risk for DVT. These include:
- Being older than 40.
- Being overweight.
- Not taking anticoagulant medicine as prescribed.
- Having to stay in bed for more than 3 days (such as in a hospital).
- Sitting for a long time, especially when traveling long distances.
- Being pregnant, using hormonal birth control, or using hormone therapy.
- Having a recent surgery or injury that involved the legs, hips, belly, or brain.
- Having certain health problems, such as cancer, blood vessel disease, or an inherited clotting disorder.
How is deep vein thrombosis (DVT) treated?
DVT is usually treated with anticoagulant medicines. These medicines are often called blood thinners, but they don't actually thin the blood. They prevent blood clots by increasing the time it takes a blood clot to form. They also help prevent existing blood clots from getting larger.
Other treatments may be used in the hospital for some people. These can include medicine that breaks up blood clots and vena cava filters. But these treatments aren't common. They might be used for people who are at risk for serious problems from DVT.
Your doctor may also recommend self-care to relieve symptoms. This care includes:
- Walking several times a day.
- Propping up (elevating) your leg or arm.
- Wearing compression stockings.