What is a DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis)?

Learn About the Importance of DVTs - Deep Venous Thrombosis

photo of a leg swollen due to a deep venous thrombosis (DVT)
What is deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and what are the symptoms?. A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia

Definition: Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)

A DVT (deep vein thrombosis) is a blood clot in a deep vein in the body, most commonly in the leg or pelvis.

Importance of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)

Deep vein thromboses (DVTs) are important in their own right, as they can cause chronic leg and/or groin pain, but the biggest problem is that they can dislodge from their spot in the leg or groin or elsewhere and travel to the lung where they lodge as pulmonary emboli.

 Pulmonary emboli are, in turn, a leading cause of death in the United States.

How Do DVT's Form?

Causes of DVT's can include anything which raises the risk of blood clots forming in the legs, and may include mechanisms such as:

  • Conditions which cause the blood to clot more easily
  • Conditions which cause a slowing of blood flow through the legs and groin

Causes of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)

Causes, therefore, may include:

  • Prolonged sitting, especially when not moving, such as during long car rides of air flights
  • Prolonged immobility, such as during hospitalization

Symptoms of Deep Vein Thrombosis

Symptoms of a DVT may include:

  • Leg pain
  • Redness
  • Swelling

Symptoms of Pulmonary Embolism

Sometimes, pulmonary emboli occur without any signs of preceding DVTs. When this is the case, the first symptoms may be:

  • Sharp, sudden chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lightheadedness of fainting
  • Cardiac arrhythmia
  • Coughing or coughing up blood
  • Unconsciousness or death

Risk Factors for Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)

Nearly any chronic medical condition may raise your risk of developing a DVT. Some known risk factors include:

  • Prolonged inactivity or sitting
  • Being pregnant, or using hormone replacement therapy or birth control pills
  • Having cancer
  • Genetic clotting disorders

Diagnosing Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)

If your doctor suspects that you have a DVT which has traveled to your lungs, she will to a workup to diagnose pulmonary emboli first. Tests to look for DVT's include:

Prevention of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)

There are several things people can do to decrease the likelihood of developing a DVT.

  • When traveling by car take frequent rest stops, get out and walk around.
  • When traveling by plane, exercise your legs frequently, and get up and walk around as often as possible. On international flights, follow the instructions the flight attendants share on leg exercises to prevent DVT.
  • For those at particular risk due to air travel may be prescribed a medication to help lower risk.
  • When you are hospitalized or recovering from surgery try to become active as soon as possible, within the limits of your condition.
  • Avoid clothes that fit tightly in your lower abdomen or groin.

People with cancer are at particular risk of DVT's and pulmonary as chemotherapy, surgery, prolonged bed rest, and simply having cancer all raise the risk.

Learn what you can do to prevent DVT's if you are living with cancer.

Examples: After his lung cancer surgery, Jim was told he should wear compression stockings to lower his risk of developing a DVT.


National Library of Medicine. Deep Vein Thrombosis. Updated 11/17/16. https://medlineplus.gov/deepveinthrombosis.html

National Library of Medicine. MedlinePlus. Pulmonary Embolism. Updated 11/16/16. https://medlineplus.gov/pulmonaryembolism.html

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