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Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) occurs when a blood clot forms in one of the major veins of the body. DVT occur most often in the legs but can also occur in the arms and other veins. If DVT are not detected and treated they may break off and travel through the heart to the lungs and block the flow of oxygen. This condition is called a pulmonary embolism (PE) and this can be fatal, so it is critical that DVT be diagnosed early when they can be effectively treated.

Who’s At Risk
People at higher risk for DVT are those over age 60 who are hospitalized for serious illness or major surgery. Those being treated for cancer or who have certain inherited blood disorders are also at risk. People with a strong family history of DVT, or who have had prior DVT themselves are among the highest risk. But even those without major risk factors may experience DVT when their legs are immobile for long periods of time, even on a long airline flight. Effective means of DVT prevention (prophylaxis) are available for high risk situations and are used routinely by physicians.

Symptoms to Look For
DVT most often cause leg (or arm) pain and swelling. The limb is often tender to the touch and may have increased warmth or bluish discoloration. However, many DVT are silent and only about half of the people who have DVT experience classic symptoms. When pulmonary embolism occurs, it usually produces chest pain and unexplained shortness of breath, and even coughing up blood. If you experience any of these symptoms of DVT or PE contact your physician right away or seek urgent care.

Most DVT can be detected with an ultrasound test that is painless and noninvasive (learn about our free community screening program). DVT are usually treated with anticoagulant therapy (blood thinners) when they can be safely used. In those with a high risk of bleeding where blood thinners are considered unsafe, other treatments are available to prevent PE.

While prevention is ideal it is obvious that not all DVT can be prevented. But with early diagnosis DVT can be effectively treated to prevent fatal pulmonary embolism, saving countless lives among our patients.

For more information or to make an appointment with The Vascular Center at UM BWMC, call 410-553-8300.