Health conditions

Deep vein thrombosis

What is deep vein thrombosis?

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot in one of the deep veins of your body, usually in your leg.

If not treated, there is a risk that part of the blood clot may become dislodged and travel through your bloodstream to your lungs, where it can get stuck and block the flow of blood. This is called pulmonary embolism and is a life-threatening condition.

Signs and symptoms

Anything that slows the flow of blood through the deep veins can cause DVT. This includes injury, surgery or long periods of sitting or lying. For this reason DVT has become associated with hospitalisation and long haul travel (not just air travel). 

DVT symptoms include swelling, pain and tenderness in your leg.

Other DVT causes and factors that increase your risk of developing DVT include blood clotting disorders, pregnancy and taking the oral contraceptive pill or hormone therapy.

Diagnosis of deep vein thrombosis?

Your doctor will usually use an ultrasound to diagnose DVT. An ultrasound will show any clots in your deep veins.

Sometimes your doctor might use other tests instead of, or as well as, an ultrasound to diagnose DVT.

Treatment of deep vein thrombosis

DVT treatment includes using medicines to stop your blood from clotting more while your body breaks down the existing clot.

If you have DVT, your doctor will usually prescribe an anticoagulant (blood thinning) medicine, such as warfarin. You will probably need to take this medicine for a few months (sometimes longer).

While you are taking anticoagulant medicine, you will need to have regular blood tests so your doctor can check if it is working. He or she can change how much medicine you are taking if it is not working or if you are having side effects.

You will also need to be careful about what you eat and check with your doctor or pharmacist before you take any other medicine (including over-the-counter medicine).

Other types of DVT treatment may be recommended if you can't take anticoagulant medicine.

If you have a pulmonary embolism, you will need to have emergency treatment in hospital.

Managing deep vein thrombosis

If you have to sit or lie down for a long period of time (for example, in hospital or on a long trip), an easy way to lower your risk of DVT is to gently exercise your feet and legs and regularly get up and walk.

If you have had a DVT, or are at high risk of developing one, your doctor can tell you if medicine or things such as compression stockings will help to prevent blood clots forming.

Treatment to prevent a DVT may be recommended in circumstances where your risk is further increased, such as if you need to go to hospital or have surgery.

If you need to go to hospital, remember to:

  • make sure that you get any tablets or injections that your doctor has prescribed to reduce your risk of DVT
  • wear compression stockings (if these have been recommended)
  • avoid sitting or lying in bed for long periods
  • walk as often as your doctor recommends.

Long haul travel and DVT

International guidelines to prevent DVT recommend that when travelling long distances, you:

  • drink plenty of water or juice and avoid drinking too much coffee or alcohol
  • regularly exercise your leg muscles and where possible go for walks.

People at high risk of DVT (due to recent surgery, immobility, pregnancy or other conditions) should talk to their doctor before undertaking long haul travel.

Where to get help

  • Always dial triple zero (000) to call an ambulance in a medical emergency
  • See your doctor
  • Visit a GP after hours
  • Ring healthdirect on 1800 022 222
  • Phone the Heart Foundation’s Health Information Service on 1300 362 787

Remember

  • Anything that slows the flow of blood through the deep veins can cause DVT.
  • Your doctor will usually use an ultrasound to diagnose DVT.
  • DVT treatment includes using medicines to stop your blood from clotting more while your body breaks down the existing clot.

This information provided by

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Acknowledgements
Heart Foundation

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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