Healthcare providers use the term venous thromboembolism (VTE) to describe two conditions, deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism (PE). They use the term VTE because the two conditions are very closely related. And, because their prevention and treatment are closely related.
DVT is a blood clot or thrombus in a deep vein. Most of these clots develop in the leg or thigh. But, they may form in a vein in the arm, or other part of the body.
Part of the blood clot may separate from the vein. This is called an embolus. It may travel to the lungs and form a pulmonary embolus. This can cut off the flow of blood to a portion of or to the entire lung. A blood clot in the lungs is a medical emergency and may cause death.
Over time, blood clots can also permanently damage veins. They must be treated right away to prevent problems.
Anyone can develop a blood clot. But the following risk factors make a blood clot more likely to happen:
Being inactive for a long period, such as when you’re in the hospital, or traveling by plane or car
Injury to a vein from an accident, a broken bone, or surgery
Having blood clots in the past or a family history of blood clots
Blood clotting disorder
Cancer and certain cancer treatments
Other factors can also put you at higher risk for a blood clot. They include:
Age over 60 years
Taking birth control pills or hormone replacement
Having other vein problems, such as varicose veins
Having a pacemaker or a central venous catheter. They increase the chance of a blood clot forming in an arm.
Injection drug use. This also increases the chance of a blood clot forming in an arm.
Preventing a blood clot means improving blood flow back to your heart. To help prevent a blood clot:
Talk with your healthcare provider about a program of regular exercise.
If your legs feel swollen or heavy, take a break and sit comfortably or lie down with your feet up.
Keep a healthy weight.
Quit smoking, if you smoke.
Avoid sitting, standing, or lying down for long periods without moving your legs and feet:
When traveling by car, make frequent stops to get out and move around.
On long airplane, train, or bus rides, get up and move around when possible.
If you can’t get up, wiggle your toes and tighten your calves to keep your blood moving, as pictured below.
If you need to have surgery, talk with your healthcare provider about a plan to prevent blood clots.
If you are in the hospital, your risk for blood clots increases. Your healthcare provider may prescribe an anticoagulant medicine or a blood thinner to help prevent blood clots. Or your healthcare provider may prescribe a sequential compression device (SCD) or intermittent pneumatic compression (IPC). The device has sleeves that fit around your legs. It applies gentle pressure to help with blood flow and prevent blood clots. Remove the sleeves so that you do not trip or fall when you are walking, like when you use the bathroom or shower. If you need help removing the sleeves, ask the nurse or aid. You may also want to try the following:
If you have symptoms of a blood clot in your lungs, call 911 or get emergency help. The symptoms are:
Coughing (may cough up blood)
If you have symptoms of a blood clot, call your healthcare provider. The symptoms are:
Redness or discoloration in a leg, arm, or other area
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