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Preventing Deep Vein Thrombosis

Health care providers use the term venous thromboembolism (VTE) to describe 2 conditions, deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism (PE). They use the term VTE because the 2 conditions are very closely related. And, because their prevention and treatment are closely related. 

DVT is a blood clot or thrombus in a deep vein. Most of these clots develop in the leg or thigh. But, 1 may form in a vein in the arm, or other part of the body. 

Part of the blood clot may separate from the vein. This is called an embolus. It may travel to the lungs and form a pulmonary embolus. This can cut off the flow of blood. A blood clot in the lungs is a medical emergency and may cause death.

Over time, blood clots can also permanently damage veins. They must be treated right away to prevent problems. 

Risk factors

Anyone can develop a blood clot. But the following risk factors make a blood clot more likely to occur:

  • Being inactive for a long period, such as when you’re in the hospital, or traveling by plane or car

  • Injury to a vein from an accident, a broken bone, or surgery

  • Having blood clots in the past or a family history of blood clots

  • Blood clotting disorder

  • Recent surgery

  • Cancer and certain cancer treatments

  • Smoking

Other factors can also put you at higher risk for a blood clot. They include:

  • Age over 60 years

  • Pregnancy

  • Taking birth control pills or hormone replacement

  • Having other vein problems, such as varicose veins 

  • Being overweight

  • Having a pacemaker or a central venous catheter. They increase the chance of a blood clot forming in an arm.

  • Injection drug use. This also increases the chance of a blood clot forming in an arm.

How to prevent DVT

Preventing a blood clot means improving blood flow back to your heart. To help prevent a blood clot:

  • Talk with your health care provider about a program of regular exercise.

  • If your legs feel swollen or heavy, take a break and sit comfortably or lie down with your feet up.

  • Keep a healthy weight.

  • Quit smoking, if you smoke.

  • Avoid sitting, standing, or lying down for long periods without moving your legs and feet:

    • When traveling by car, make frequent stops to get out and move around.

    • On long airplane, train, or bus rides, get up and move around when possible.

    • If you can’t get up, wiggle your toes and tighten your calves to keep your blood moving, as pictured below.

If you need to have surgery, talk with your health care provider about a plan to prevent blood clots. 

If you are in the hospital, your risk for blood clots increases. Your health care provider may prescribe an anticoagulant medicine or a blood thinner to help prevent blood clots. Or your health care provider may prescribe a sequential compression device (SCD) or intermittent pneumatic compression (IPC). The device has sleeves that fit around your legs. It applies gentle pressure to help with blood flow and prevent blood clots. Remove the sleeves so that you do not trip or fall when you are walking, like when you use the bathroom or shower. If you need help removing the sleeves, ask the nurse or aid. You may also want to try the following:

Legs resting on end of bed which is elevated with foam wedge under mattress, foot doing rotation exercise, and woman putting on compression stocking.

If you have symptoms of a blood clot, call your health care provider: The symptoms are pain, swelling, and redness in a leg, arm, or other area.

If you have symptoms of a blood clot in your lungs, call 911 or get emergency help. The symptoms are chest pain, trouble breathing, fast heartbeat, coughing (may cough up blood), sweating, and fainting.

Online Medical Reviewer: Holloway, Beth, RN, M.Ed.
Online Medical Reviewer: Image reviewed by StayWell medical illustration team.
Online Medical Reviewer: Petersen, Sheralee, MPAS, PA-C
Date Last Reviewed: 3/31/2015
© 2000-2015 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. 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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