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Preventing Deep Vein Thrombosis

A deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot that forms in a deep vein. Most DVTs develop in the lower leg or thigh, although they can develop in other veins in the body. Common symptoms include redness, swelling, warmth, and leg pain. If the blood clot is not treated, a piece may break off and go to the lungs. This causes a potentially life-threatening complication, called a pulmonary embolism (PE). The clot may also grow big enough to completely block a vein. Over time, a DVT can also permanently damage veins. A DVT must be treated right away to prevent problems.

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 bedridden due to illness)

  • Immobility due to plane rides or long car rides

  • Injury to a vein caused by a trauma, a broken bone, inflammation, or surgery

  • Family history of blood clots

  • Recent surgery

  • Cancer and certain cancer treatments

  • Smoking

Other factors, such as older age, pregnancy, taking birth control or hormone replacement, having another vein problem, or being overweight can also put you at higher risk for DVT.

Pacemakers, central venous catheters, and injection drug use also can be risk factors for DVTs, specifically, in the upper extremity.

If you are at risk for DVT, follow these suggestions to help prevent it.

How to Prevent DVT

Preventing DVT means improving blood flow back to your heart, among other measures. The following are prevention tips:

  • Talk with your doctor about a program of regular exercise, which can help.

  • Elevate your legs whenever they feel swollen or heavy

  • Maintain 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 the plan to prevent DVT. Depending on the surgery, your doctor may prescribe a blood thinner (anticoagulant).

If you are hospitalized for an extended period of time, or if a surgery requires hospital admission, your risk for DVT increases. Your health care provider may prescribe an anticoagulant the day of, or the day after, admission. Your doctor may also advise sequential compression devices. These are special sleeves wrapped around the legs or feet that inflate and deflate through air tubes connected to an electric pump. This action promotes better blood circulation and thus prevents DVT. Also, follow these tips:

Elevating bed
Elevate the foot of your bed 5-6 inches using a foam wedge.

Wiggling toes
When you're sitting, wiggle your toes and tighten your calves to keep blood moving.

Elastic stockings
Wear elastic stockings at all times, except when you're in bed.

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

  • Swelling, pain, or both, often in one leg

  • Redness or wamth, often in one leg

  • Sudden, continuous pain deep in your muscle

  • Worsening ache when you are active or when you stand still for a long time

Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Online Medical Reviewer: Turley, Ray, BSN, MSN
Date Last Reviewed: 3/20/2014
© 2000-2014 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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