Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)

What is it?

  • A blood clot that forms in a vein deep inside a part of your body
  • DCT occurs mainly in the larger veins in the lower leg and thigh
  • A DVT can break loose, travel through the bloodstream (embolus) and cause blockage to your lung (pulmonary embolism), a serious and potentially fatal condition
  • DVT can also causes chronic venous insufficiency—problems such as leg swelling, discoloration of the skin, and leg ulcers

Symptoms

You may or may not have symptoms with DVT. Symptoms that do appear occur in the affected part of the body:

  • Swelling
  • Pain
  • Redness or changes in skin color
  • Skin that feels warm to the touch

Risks factors

Risk factors for DVT include:

  • Blood disorders or medical conditions that make your blood thicker or more likely to clot
  • Injury to a deep vein from trauma, a broken bone, or surgery
  • Age (DVT typically affects older adults)
  • Lack of physical activity or movement for long periods of time
  • Smoking
  • Being overweight

Diagnosis

  • Your doctor will do a physical exam to check for DVT symptoms
  • Your doctor may order the following tests:
    • Ultrasound
    • D-dimer test to measure a substance that is released when a blood clot dissolves; if you have high amounts of the substance, a DVT is possible
    • MRI
    • Computed tomography (CT)

Treatment for DVT

  • Medicines
    • Anticoagulants (blood thinners): Minimize the risk of blood clotting and prevents existing clots from getting bigger. Heparin and warfarin are common blood thinners used to treat DVT.
    • Catheter-directed thrombolytic therapy: Quickly dissolves large blood clots that cause severe symptoms.
  • Non-surgical treatments
    • Graduated compression stockings: Reduce leg swelling caused by DVT. These stockings are tight at the ankle and become looser as they go up the leg.
    • Patients with deep vein clots are encouraged very early ambulation while wearing compression stockings.
  • Surgical treatment
    • Inferior vena cava (IVC) filters: A cone-shaped device that is implanted in the inferior vena cava—the large vein that carries oxygen-poor blood from the lower extremities to the heart and on to the lungs. An IVC filter blocks and captures a blood clot that is traveling toward the lung, preventing a pulmonary embolism.
Last reviewed: 
October 2016

Interested in using our health content?