What Is Deep Vein Thrombosis?
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a serious health condition that describes the formation of a blood clot in the deep venous system. Blood clots occur when blood thickens and clumps together. The deep venous system includes veins located deep within your body, away from the skin’s surface.
Most commonly, deep vein thrombosis occurs in the legs. However, it can develop in other areas of the body, such as the pelvis or arms. DVT symptoms can be painful, impacting mobility and quality of life. However, not everyone with DVT experiences symptoms.
When left untreated, deep vein thrombosis can lead to a life-threatening condition called pulmonary embolism. This is when a piece of DVT breaks off and travels to the lungs, creating a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment. Longer-term complications can also occur, including chronic pain, skin discoloration, and venous ulcers.
Deep vein thrombosis is often considered preventable. However, many different risk factors can be involved, including genetics, lifestyle, and vein disease, or venous insufficiency. Vein disease is also the underlying cause of varicose veins and spider veins.
According to the CDC, an estimated 900,000 people are affected by venous thromboembolism (blood clots) in the US each year. Below, you can learn more about deep vein thrombosis symptoms, causes, and risk factors. We also cover ways to prevent and treat this condition and other signs of vein disease.
Use the following quick links to jump to helpful information on specific topics:
- Deep Vein Thrombosis Symptoms
- Deep Vein Thrombosis Causes and Risk Factors
- DVT Complications
- DVT Prevention
- Vein Treatment
At USA Vein Clinics, we offer minimally invasive, office-based vein treatment for a range of venous conditions. If you have questions about your vein health, we suggest consulting one of our board-certified vein specialists.
If you believe you are experiencing signs of DVT, such as leg swelling, tenderness, warmth, or redness, you need to seek urgent medical care. If you are experiencing shortness of breath, chest pain, coughing, sweating, or fast breath, these may indicate a pulmonary embolism. In such a case, call 911 immediately.
Deep Vein Thrombosis Symptoms
Symptoms of deep vein thrombosis can resemble those of varicose veins, making DVT difficult to accurately diagnose without medical imaging. However, symptoms usually develop only on one side of the body, such as in one leg or one arm. While many individuals with DVT experience pain or discomfort, the condition can sometimes go undetected until identified by a medical professional.
Common DVT symptoms include:
- Leg swelling on one side
- Warmth in the affected area
- Skin redness
- Pain, tenderness, or cramping in the lower extremities
If you believe you are experiencing signs of deep vein thrombosis, seek medical care immediately.
Deep Vein Thrombosis Causes and Risk Factors
There are many potential causes and risk factors for DVT. An experienced vein doctor can help identify your individual risks, recommend beneficial lifestyle changes, and closely monitor you for signs of deep vein thrombosis. They can also provide treatment when vein disease is involved.
Deep vein thrombosis risk factors include:
- A recent accident or surgery: DVT can develop in veins damaged by surgery or injury, especially when lengthy bed rest is required.
- Personal or family history: If you, a parent, or a sibling has ever been diagnosed with DVT or another blood-clotting disorder, you are considered at increased risk for venous issues.
- Prolonged sitting: Long periods of sitting, such as during air or car travel, can impact circulation and cause DVT to occur in the lower legs.
- Smoking: Smoking can damage your veins, impact circulation, and lead to dangerous blood clots.
- Varicose veins: Individuals with enlarged, visible leg veins may be at increased risk for developing deep vein thrombosis.
- Cancer: Some types of cancer, including breast, ovarian, pancreatic, bowel, and lung, along with chemotherapy treatment, can make you more likely to develop DVT.
- Obesity: A high body mass index (BMI) can place strain on veins, impacting blood flow and increasing the risk for deep vein thrombosis.
- Pregnancy: Women who are pregnant or have recently given birth are at increased risk for DVT due to the expanding uterus placing pressure on surrounding veins, increased blood flow, and damaged vessels after childbirth.
- Aging: Although anyone can develop DVT, your risk increases beyond the age of 40.
If you have any of the above risk factors, it is important to look for signs of DVT. If you experience symptoms, contact your doctor right away.
Deep Vein Thrombosis Complications
When left untreated, deep vein thrombosis can lead to a dangerous medical emergency called pulmonary embolism. DVT can also cause chronic, long-term symptoms that impact quality of life.
Pulmonary Embolism (PE)
Pulmonary embolism (PE) is when a blood clot or piece of a blood clot breaks off and travels through the deep venous system to your lungs. This is a life-threatening condition.
You should call 911 or head to the nearest emergency room if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Rapid heart rate
- Difficulty breathing
- Coughing up blood
- Feeling lightheaded or faint
- Chest pain or discomfort that worsens with a deep breath or cough
After receiving emergency treatment for pulmonary embolism, you may wish to consult a vein doctor for ongoing monitoring and care.
Post-Thrombotic Syndrome (PTS)
Post-thrombotic syndrome is a long-term complication that can occur from deep vein thrombosis. PTS develops when a blood clot causes damage to tiny valves in your veins, leading to chronic pain, discomfort, and swelling. Symptoms can develop six months to two years after a blood clot forms.
Symptoms of PTS typically include:
- Skin discoloration
- Sores or ulcers on the skin
- Tingling and itching
- Pain and cramping
A vein doctor can help identify long-term DVT complications and recommend available treatment options.
Deep Vein Thrombosis Prevention
Although you may not be able to control all of your DVT risk factors, making relevant lifestyle changes to improve your overall vein health can be beneficial.
Our experts recommend the following:
- Move around frequently: Since blood clots often form while traveling or in those who stand or sit for long periods of time, moving around frequently throughout the day (at least every two hours) can help reduce your risk. Ideas include walking around, stretching out, flexing your feet and ankles, and massaging your legs.
- Exercise regularly: Along with avoiding prolonged sitting and standing, it is important to exercise regularly. You should aim for at least 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. Be sure to consult your doctor before getting started.
- Wear loose-fitting clothing: Some patients are surprised to learn that tight-fitting clothing can place pressure on veins, impacting circulation to the legs and causing problems. So carefully consider your clothing options, especially when traveling.
- Maintain a healthy weight: Losing extra weight can alleviate pressure on your veins, lowering your risk for DVT. If you need additional support to achieve a healthy BMI, talk to your doctor about medical weight loss programs.
- Quit smoking: Since smoking and other tobacco products can cause damage to your blood vessels, we encourage you to quit. If you need help, ask your doctor about smoking cessation programs.
- Wear prescribed compression stockings: Medical-grade compression stockings can alleviate deep vein thrombosis symptoms, boost circulation, and reduce your risk for developing additional venous issues.
- Review your medications: Certain medications, including estrogen-containing oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapies, may increase your risk for DVT. Discuss the pros and cons with your doctor.
- Treat underlying vein disease: If you have vein disease, minimally invasive vein treatment may help reduce your risk of deep vein thrombosis.
Deep Vein Thrombosis Treatment
Once a diagnosis of DVT is confirmed via medical imaging (usually ultrasound), your doctor will prescribe blood thinners and, in serious cases, clot-busting medications. They may also recommend wearing compression stockings during the day.
Although our doctors at USA Vein Clinics do not provide initial treatment for deep vein thrombosis, we can help monitor your condition over time. We also offer a range of non-surgical vein treatments that can alleviate symptoms of vein disease, lower your risk of developing the condition and improve your quality of life.
Improve Your Vein Health at USA Vein Clinics
To prevent deep vein thrombosis, we encourage you to take control of your vein health today. Our doctors perform minimally invasive vein treatment for varicose veins, spider veins, restless legs syndrome (RLS), and other venous conditions.
 “Learn about Venous Thromboembolism (Blood Clots).” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, October 13, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/dvt/index.html.