Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) occurs when a blood clot (thrombus) forms in one or more of the deep veins in your body, usually in your legs. Deep vein thrombosis can cause leg pain or swelling, but may occur without any symptoms.
Deep vein thrombosis signs and symptoms can include:
- Swelling in the affected leg. Rarely, there may be swelling in both legs.
- Pain in your leg. The pain often starts in your calf and can feel like cramping or a soreness.
Deep vein thrombosis may sometimes occur without any noticeable symptoms.
When to see a doctor
If you develop signs or symptoms of deep vein thrombosis, contact your doctor for guidance.
If you develop signs or symptoms of a pulmonary embolism — a life-threatening complication of deep vein thrombosis — seek medical attention immediately.
A pulmonary embolism occurs when a blood vessel in your lung becomes blocked by a blood clot (thrombus) that travels to your lungs from another part of your body, usually your leg.
The warning signs of a pulmonary embolism include:
- Unexplained sudden onset of shortness of breath
- Chest pain or discomfort that worsens when you take a deep breath or when you cough
- Feeling lightheaded or dizzy, or fainting
- Rapid pulse
- Coughing up blood
Deep vein thrombosis occurs when a blood clot forms in the veins that are deep in your body, often in your legs. Blood clots can be caused by anything that prevents your blood from circulating normally or clotting properly.
Many factors can increase your risk of developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT), and the more you have, the greater your risk. Risk factors for DVT include:
- Inheriting a blood-clotting disorder
- Prolonged bed rest, such as during a long hospital stay, or paralysis
- Injury or surgery
- Birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy
- Being overweight or obese
- Heart failure
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- A personal or family history of deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism (PE)
- Sitting for long periods of time, such as when driving or flying
A concerning complication associated with deep vein thrombosis is pulmonary embolism:
- Pulmonary embolism
- Postphlebitic syndrome
Postphlebitic syndrome is used to describe a collection of signs and symptoms, including:
- Swelling of your legs (edema)
- Leg pain
- Skin discoloration
- Skin sores
Tests and diagnosis
To diagnose deep vein thrombosis, your doctor will ask you a series of questions about your symptoms. You’ll also have a physical exam so that your doctor can check for any areas of swelling, tenderness or discoloration on your skin. Depending on how likely you are to have a blood clot, your doctor may suggest further testing, including:
- Blood test
- CT or MRI scans
Treatments and drugs
Deep vein thrombosis treatment options include:
- Anticoagulants/Blood thinners.These are drugs that decrease your blood’s ability to clot. While they don’t break up existing blood clots, they can prevent clots from getting bigger or reduce your risk of developing additional clots.
Usually, you’ll first be given a shot or infusion of the blood thinner heparin for a few days. After starting heparin injections, your treatment may be followed by another injectable blood thinner, such as enoxaparin, dalteparin or fondaparinux . Other blood thinners can be given in pill form, such as warfarin or rivaroxaban.
If you’re prescribed any of these blood thinners, it’s important to take your medication exactly as your doctor instructs. Blood-thinning medications can have serious side effects if you take too much or too little.
- If you have a more serious type of deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism, or if other medications aren’t working, your doctor may prescribe different medications.
One group of medications is known as thrombolytics. These drugs, called tissue plasminogen activators (TPA), are given through an IV line to break up blood clots or may be given through a catheter placed directly into the clot.
- If you can’t take medicines to thin your blood, a filter may be inserted into a large vein — the vena cava — in your abdomen. A vena cava filter prevents clots that break loose from lodging in your lungs.
- Compression stockings. These help prevent swelling associated with deep vein thrombosis. These stockings are worn on your legs from your feet to about the level of your knees.
Lifestyle and home remedies
Once you receive treatment for deep vein thrombosis you need to watch your diet and look for signs of excessive bleeding, as well as take steps to help prevent another DVT. Some things you can do include:
- Check in with your doctor regularly
- Take your blood thinners as directed
- Watch how much vitamin K you’re eating
- Be on the lookout for excessive bleeding
- Wear compression stockings
To prevent deep vein thrombosis, some common preventive measures include the following:
- Take any prescribed medications as directed.
- Avoid sitting still.
- Make lifestyle changes.
- Get regular exercise.