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Authors

  1. Hanes, Elizabeth BSN, RN

Article Content

What's a deep vein thrombosis?

A deep vein thrombosis, or DVT, is a blood clot that forms in one of the deep veins in your body, usually in one of your legs. A blood clot is a clump of blood cells that forms into a solid mass over time. A DVT may be dangerous because it can break off and move through your bloodstream to your lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism, or PE. A PE can block blood flow and cause lung damage or even death.

 

Am I at risk for a DVT?

If you're not very active, you're at risk for a DVT. People who are paralyzed, and anyone who's confined to a bed for any reason, has an increased chance of getting a DVT.

 

Dehydration can increase your risk of getting a DVT because it makes the blood thicker, and blood tends to clot when it thickens. Other risk factors for a DVT include:

 

* heart failure

 

* active cancer

 

* chemotherapy

 

* recent trauma or injury

 

* birth control medicines

 

* obesity

 

* major surgery

 

* smoking

 

* traveling more than 4 hours by car, plane, train, or bus without walking around

 

* genetic disorders.

 

 

How will I know if I have a DVT?

Symptoms of a DVT in one of your legs include swelling, redness, warmth, and tenderness or pain. Contact your healthcare provider if you have any of these symptoms because you may need immediate treatment.

 

If a clot travels to your lung, you may experience sudden shortness of breath, chest pain, a fast heartbeat, or cough. If you have any of these symptoms, it's important to call 911 right away so you can get immediate treatment.

 

How is a DVT treated?

A DVT is usually treated by a medicine called an anticoagulant (commonly known as a "blood thinner"). Anticoagulants, like heparin and warfarin, slow down the clotting process and help prevent a blood clot from getting bigger. They also help prevent the formation of new clots.

 

What can I do to avoid getting a DVT?

You can make several lifestyle changes to reduce your chances of getting a DVT. To reduce your risk:

 

* Quit smoking. Your healthcare provider can help you put together a stop-smoking program that will work best for you.

 

* Lose weight if you're overweight, exercise regularly, and eat a healthy diet. Consult your healthcare provider for help creating a healthy eating and exercise plan.

 

* Drink plenty of water or other noncaffeinated, nonalcoholic beverages every day so you don't become dehydrated.

 

* Wear special support stockings, called compression stockings, if your healthcare providers advises.

 

* Avoid long periods of inactivity. Don't sit for long periods at one time. When you're traveling on a plane, bus, train, or car, get up and walk around at least once every hour. This is especially important if the trip lasts longer than 4 hours.

 

 

RESOURCES

 

Mayo Clinic. Blood clots. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/blood-clots/MY00109.

 

Medline Plus. Blood clots. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001124.htm.

 

National Blood Clot Alliance. Stop the clot. http://www.stoptheclot.org.

 

Pai M, Douketis JD. Patient information: deep vein thrombosis (DVT). UpToDate. 2013. http://www.uptodate.com.