Deep vein thrombosis (DVT, also known as venous thromboembolism) occurs when a blood clot develops in the deep veins of the legs and groin (the lower-abdomen/upper thigh areas). These deep veins are not visible at the skin's surface, and are not related to varicose veins. A clot that breaks loose and travels through the deep veins to the heart ( heart attack) and lungs ( pulmonary embolism) can cause severe blockage of blood flow or death. Clots may also travel to the brain causing a stroke in people born with a hole in their heart.
People who develop DVT don't always have symptoms. However, those who do usually experience the following symptoms in one leg or the other (rarely both):
Symptoms of DVT may include:
Sudden, severe shortness of breath, with or without chest pain, may signal that a clot has traveled to the lungs.
DVT can be diagnosed by ultrasound imaging tests, which highlight blood flow in the veins and show clot formation. If a clot is found, blood-thinning medication to stabilize the clot and allow it to dissolve will be prescribed immediately. Hospitalization may be required for treatment and observation. Oral medications may be necessary to ensure continued normal blood flow through the vein.
Risk factors for DVT include:
If you are planning any kind of travel that requires sitting for long stretches of time, be sure to do the following:
One cautionary note: DVT may surface after travel has been completed. If you experience any of the symptoms listed above, contact your doctor immediately.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Heart & Stroke Foundation
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated March 20, 2018. Accessed October 20, 2018.
Deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Travelers Health website. Available at: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2016/the-pre-travel-consultation/deep-vein-thrombosis-pulmonary-embolism. Accessed October 20, 2018.
Explore deep vein thrombosis website. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/dvt. Accessed October 20, 2018.
Last reviewed September 2018 by Michael Woods, MD Last Updated: 10/20/2018