Deep vein thrombosis, commonly called DVT, refers to blood clots that form in the deep veins of the extremities.  Most of the time these clots occur in a person’s legs, but they can develop in the arms too.  Deep vein thrombosis alone is not fatal, but if the DVT turns into a pulmonary embolism it can cause sudden death.

Signs & Symptoms of Deep Vein Thrombosis 

There are several common signs that a person may have developed a DVT. A person may present with all of the symptoms or a mix of them.  In some cases however, there are very few signs at all. Recognizing these signs early and seeking medical attention immediately are key to preventing a fatal pulmonary embolism from developing.

  • Pain
  • Swelling of the extremity
  • Redness
  • Warmth
  • Cramping feeling in the extremity
  • Fever
  • Increasing pain when foot is pointed upwards

Risk Factors

There are many things that can increase a person’s risk for deep vein thrombosis. DVT can affect anyone of any age ranging from a young woman who has just had a baby, to a middle aged businessman on a long overseas flight, to an older adult undergoing knee replacement surgery.  Understand the things that may increase your risk for DVT and discuss them with a doctor.

  • Immobility
  • Dehydration
  • Older age
  • Obesity
  • Recent surgery
  • Genetic clotting disorders
  • Pregnancy
  • Smoking
  • Hormonal contraceptive use
  • Hormone replacement therapy
  • Cancer
  • Recent trauma
  • Personal or family history of blood clots
  • Travel

Diagnosis & Treatment

Diagnosis is made based on presenting signs and symptoms, in addition to imaging and blood work. Several blood tests can be done by your doctor, such as a D-dimer test. Various imaging techniques – ultrasound, CT scan, venography, etc. – are done to visualize the blood clot in the vein. After the diagnosis is confirmed, there are several ways to treat deep vein thrombosis.

  • Anticoagulant medications — to prevent the clot from getting bigger while your body slowly breaks it down over several months (*the most common method)
  • Thrombolytic medications — in emergency situations, to destroy the blood clot immediately
  • Surgical options — to remove the clot, also used in emergency situations
  • Inferior vena cava filters — tiny filters resembling umbrellas placed in a vein in the lower leg to prevent pieces of the blood clot from traveling anywhere else in the body


If a person has factors that increase their risk there are ways to prevent a DVT from forming. See the prevention link for additional information.

  • Hydration 
  • Leg exercises — wiggling your toes and doing ankle rolls keeps blood flowing
  • Anticoagulant medications
  • Walking
  • Compression stockings (which resemble nylons/knee socks)
  • Sequential compression devices — mechanical devices that inflate and deflate to prevent blood clots from forming


Smeltzer, S. C., Bare, B. G., Hinkle, J. L., & Cheever, K. H. (2010). Brunner and Suddarth’s textbook of medical surgical nursing (12th ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott, Williams, & Wilkins.