Deep Vein Thrombosis: Definition and Overview

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Deep Vein Thrombosis

What is deep vein thrombosis?

Deep vein thrombosis is a blood clot that forms deep within the body. Deep vein thrombosis, or DVT, most commonly occurs in the lower leg, but may also develop in other parts of the body. A clot is more likely to form following surgery; injury; or periods of inactivity, such as during travel or while recovering from surgery. It is also more common in people who are overweight or obese or who smoke. Symptoms of DVT include swelling of the leg or along a vein in the leg, pain or tenderness in the leg, increased warmth in the area of the leg that is swollen or painful, and red or discolored skin on the leg. DVT is treated with anticoagulants or “blood thinners” such as warfarin and heparin.

A clot in a deep vein can travel through the bloodstream to an artery in the lungs and can block blood flow, a life-threatening condition called a pulmonary embolism (PE). A PE can damage the lungs and other organs and may be fatal. The symptoms of a PE are unexplained shortness of breath, pain with deep breathing, and coughing up blood. Anyone with symptoms of a PE should seek medical attention immediately.

How to treat deep vein thrombosis

There are steps people can take to lower their risk of DVT. Get out of bed and move as soon as possible after surgery. Get up and walk during long trips — or, at the very least, move your legs and stretch your feet.

Want to learn more about cardiovascular health and the legs? Read “Diabetic Leg Pain and Peripheral Arterial Disease” and “How Much Do You Know About Peripheral Arterial Disease?”

Originally Published June 15, 2006

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