A blood clot that forms in a vein deep within the body, typically a vein in the leg. There are a number of risk factors for deep vein thrombosis, including certain inherited clotting disorders, cancer and its treatment, varicose veins, and being overweight. Deep vein thrombosis is most likely to occur in people who are bedridden or otherwise immobile, and in people who have been sitting for long periods of time, such as during a long car or airplane trip.
Deep vein thrombosis in the leg can cause swelling, pain or tenderness, increased warmth, and red or discolored skin. There is always the danger that the clot may travel through the bloodstream and lodge in the lungs. This condition, known as pulmonary embolism, causes such symptoms as chest pain when taking a deep breath and shortness of breath — and it can be life-threatening. Anyone experiencing symptoms of either deep vein thrombosis or a pulmonary embolism should seek medical help immediately. Clots can also potentially travel to the brain, heart, or other organs, causing severe damage to them.
Deep vein thrombosis is often treated with anticoagulants (or “blood thinners”) such as heparin and warfarin. These drugs keep existing clots from getting bigger and allow the body to dissolve clots naturally. For large clots that cause severe symptoms, other drugs called thrombolytics may be used. These drugs quickly dissolve clots but are only used in life-threatening situations because they can cause sudden bleeding.
Moving your legs periodically is the best way to prevent deep vein thrombosis from developing. If you’re traveling by plane, get up periodically and walk up and down the aisle. When traveling by car, pull over every few hours and walk around. Following surgery or an illness, get up and move around as soon as you’re able to.