What is deep vein thrombosis?

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT, also called venous thrombosis) is a blood clot that develops in a vein deep in the body. The clot may partially or completely block blood flow through the vein. Most DVTs occur in the lower leg, thigh or pelvis, although they also can occur in other parts of the body including the arm, brain, intestines, liver or kidney.

What is the danger of DVT?

Even though DVT itself is not life-threatening, the blood clot has the potential to break free and travel through the bloodstream, where it can become lodged in the blood vessels of the lung (known as a pulmonary embolism). This can be a life- threatening condition. Therefore, prompt diagnosis and treatment are necessary.

DVT can also lead to complications in the legs referred to as chronic venous insufficiency or the post-thrombotic syndrome. This condition is characterized by pooling of blood, chronic leg swelling, increased pressure, increased pigmentation or discoloration of the skin, and leg ulcers known as venous stasis ulcers.

What is the difference between DVT and a superficial venous thrombosis?

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.

Can DVT be prevented?

If you have had DVT, then you will need to prevent further clots from developing by:

  • Taking your medications to prevent or treat blood clots as prescribed by your doctor.
  • Keeping your follow-up appointments with your doctor and, if taking warfarin, with the laboratory so that your response to medications and other treatments can be evaluated.

If you have never had a deep vein clot, but have an increased risk for developing one, be sure to:

  • Exercise your lower leg muscles if you will be sitting still for long periods of time. Stand up and walk at least every half hour if you are on a long flight. Or get out of the car every hour if you are on a long road trip.
  • Get out of bed and move around as soon as you are able after surgery or being ill. The sooner you move around, the less chance you have to develop a clot.
  • Take medications or use intermittent compression garments to prevent clots after some types of surgery, as directed by your doctor.
  • Follow-up with your doctor as recommended to evaluate your risk and follow your doctor's recommendations for reducing your risk.