Deep vein thrombosis (also called DVT) is a blood clot in a vein deep inside your body. These clots usually occur in your leg veins. While DVT is a fairly common condition, it is also a dangerous one. If the blood clot breaks away and travels through your bloodstream, it could block a blood vessel in your lungs. This blockage (called a pulmonary embolism) can be fatal.
Some people have no symptoms at all. Most have some swelling in one or both legs. Often there is pain or tenderness in one leg (may happen only when you stand or walk). You may also notice the skin feel warm or looks red or discolored in the affected leg. If you have any of these symptoms, call your doctor right away.
You are at higher risk for DVT if you:
Your risk for DVT increases if you have several risk factors at the same time.
If your doctor thinks you might have DVT, he or she will perform some tests to find out. These may include an ultrasound (a test that uses sound waves to check the blood flow in your veins) or venography (a doctor injects dye into your vein, then takes an X-ray to look for blood clots).
The following are the main goals in treating DVT:
Several medicines are used to treat or prevent DVT. The most common are anticoagulants (also called blood thinners) such as warfarin or heparin. Anticoagulants thin your blood so that clots won't form. Warfarin is taken as a pill and heparin is given intravenously (in your veins). If you can't take heparin, your doctor may prescribe another kind of anticoagulant called a thrombin inhibitor.
Anticoagulants can cause you to bleed more easily. For example, you might notice that your blood takes longer to clot when you cut yourself. You might also bruise more easily. If you have any unusual or heavy bleeding, call your doctor right away.
Warfarin can cause birth defects. Women who are pregnant shouldn't take warfarin.
Some other medicines can affect how well an anticoagulant works. If you're taking an anticoagulant, ask your doctor before you take any new medicine, including over-the-counter medicines or vitamins. Certain foods rich in vitamin K, such as dark green vegetables, can also affect how well an anticoagulant works.
If you can't take medicine to thin your blood, or if a blood thinner doesn't work, your doctor may recommend that you have a filter put into your vena cava (the main vein going back to your heart from your lower body). This filter can catch a clot as it moves through your bloodstream and prevent it from reaching your lungs. This treatment is used mostly for people who have had several blood clots travel to their lungs.
Elevation of the affected leg and compression can help reduce swelling and pain from DVT. Your doctor can prescribe graduated compression stockings to reduce swelling in your leg after a blood clot has developed. These stockings are worn from the arch of your foot to just above or below your knee. They cause a gentle compression (pressure) of your leg.
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff