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Preventing Deep Vein Thrombosis

A deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot or thrombus. Most DVTs develop in the lower leg or thigh. But, one may form in a large vein deep inside the arm, or other part of the bodySymptoms can include redness, swelling, warmth, and leg pain. Although, sometimes there will be no symptoms.

If the blood clot is not found or treated, part of it may separate from the vein. This is called an embolus. It may travel to the lungs and form a pulmonary embolus (PE).  This can cut off the flow of blood. PE is a medical emergency and may cause death. Over time, DVT can also permanently damage veins. A DVT must be treated right away to prevent problems.

Health care providers use the term venous thromboembolism (VTE) to describe both DVT and PE. They use the term VTE because the two conditions are very closely related. And, because their prevention and treatment are closely related. 

Risk Factors

Anyone can develop a 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 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 DVT. They include:

  • Age over 60 years

  • Pregnancy

  • Taking birth control or hormone replacement

  • Having other vein problems, such as varicose veins 

  • Being overweight

  • Having a pacemaker or a central venous catheter in place are risk factors specifically for DVTs in the upper extremities

  • Injection drug use is also a risk factor for DVT in the upper extremities

How to Prevent DVT

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

  • Talk with your doctor about a program of regular exercise

  • Take breaks and raise your legs throughout the day, if they feel swollen or heavy

  • Keep a healthy weight

  • Quit smoking

  • 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 require surgery, talk with your health care provider about a plan to prevent DVT. 

If you are in the hospital, your risk for DVT increases. Your health care provider may prescribe an anticoagulant medication or blood thinner to help prevent blood clots. Or your provider may prescribe a sequential compression device. The device applies gentle pressure to help with blood flow and prevent blood clots. You may also want to try the following:

Elevating bed
Raise your mattress 5-6 inches using a foam wedge.

Wiggling toes
When you're sitting or lying down, wiggle your toes and move your ankles in circles to help keep blood flowing.

Elastic stockings
Wear support or elastic stockings if your health care provider prescdribes them.

If you have these symptoms of DVT, call your doctor:

  • Pain or swelling in your leg, arm, or other area

  • Red or warm skin on your leg, arm, or other area


Online Medical Reviewer: Holloway, Beth, RN, M.Ed.
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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