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Understanding Deep Vein Thrombosis

When a muscle contracts, the valve opens. Blood is squeezed up the vein toward the heart.


When blood moves slowly in a vein, a clot can form. A part of the clot can break off and travel in the bloodstream.

A deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot that forms in a deep vein. If not treated, a part of the clot (embolus) can travel to the lungs and cause a life-threatening complication. Over time, the clot can also permanently damage leg veins. To protect your health, DVT must be treated right away.

Risk Factors

Anyone can get deep vein thrombosis. But the following risk factors make the condition more likely to occur:

  • Being inactive for a long period (such as when you’re bedridden due to illness)

  • Injury to a vein

  • Family history of blood clots

  • Recent surgery

Other factors such as age, pregnancy, having another vein problem, or being overweight can also put you at higher risk of DVT.

Common Symptoms

DVT does not always cause obvious symptoms. If you do have symptoms, they usually occur suddenly and in only one leg. Symptoms can include:

  • Pain, especially deep in the muscle

  • Swelling

  • Aching or tenderness

  • Red or warm skin

How DVT Develops

The leg muscles have deep veins. These help carry blood from the legs to the heart. When leg muscles contract and relax, blood is squeezed up the veins toward the heart. One-way valves located along the walls of the veins help keep blood moving upward. When blood moves too slowly or not at all, it can pool in the veins. This makes a clot more likely to form.


    See Back of Page for Diagnosing and Preventing DVT




Diagnosing DVT

Your doctor will evaluate your veins to see if you have a blood clot. This includes taking a health history and performing a physical exam. During the health history, tell the doctor if your family has a history of vein problems and if you’ve had any blood clots, leg injuries, recent surgical procedures, or pregnancies. An imaging test called a duplex ultrasound will also be done. This test uses sound waves to create pictures of vein structures and blood flow. It helps the doctor pinpoint the size and location of a blood clot, if you have one. After the evaluation, your doctor will discuss treatment options with you.

Preventing DVT

There are many factors that can increase your risk for developing blood clots. One that affects nearly every patient in the hospital is decreased activity. Simple actions such as walking in the hallway as recommended by your nurse and doctor and performing ankle pump exercises while in bed (like pressing and releasing the gas pedal in the car) can decrease your risk for developing blood clots. Your doctor will also review your history and determine your risks for developing blood clots. If your doctor determines that you are high risk for clood clots, he or she may prescribe further preventive treatments such as elastic stockings, compression sleeves for the legs, or medications to decrease your risk.

If you have questions or would like more information about DVT blood clots, please ask your doctor or nurse.

© 2000-2024 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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