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 December 29, 2015. Accessed July 19, 2016.
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. Updated July 10, 2015. Updated July 19, 2016.
Explore deep vein thrombosis website. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/dvt. Updated October 28, 2011. Accessed July 19, 2016.
Focus on: Emergency ultrasound for deep vein thrombosis. American College of Emergency Physicians website. Available at: https://www.acep.org/content.aspx?id=44490. Accessed July 19, 2016.
Gavish I, Brenner B. Air travel and the risk of thromboembolism. Intern Emerg Med. 2011;6(2):113-116.
Kahn SR, Lim W, Dunn AS, et al. Prevention of VTE in nonsurgical patients: Antithrombotic therapy and prevention of thrombosis, 9th ed: American College of Chest Physicians evidence-based clinical practice guidelines. Chest. 2012;141(2 Suppl):e195S-e226S.
Philbrick JT, Shumate R, et al. Air travel and venous thromboembolism: A systematic review. J Gen Intern Med. 2007;22(1):107-114.
Last reviewed September 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.