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Deep Vein Thrombosis Causes and Risks

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) occurs when a blood clot forms in a vein deep inside a muscle in your body. It usually happens in legs, but can also develop in your arms, chest, or other areas of your body. And though DVT is not common, it can be dangerous. The blood clot can block your circulation or lodge in a blood vessel in your lungs, heart, or other area. The clot can cause severe organ damage and even death -- within hours.

Surgery and Deep Vein Thrombosis

These surgeries increase your risk for deep vein thrombosis:
 

  • Surgery that reduces blood flow to a part of your body
  • Major surgery on a hip, knee, leg, calf, abdomen, or chest
  • Orthopedic surgery, such as hip replacement

These are some of the reasons why surgery can increase your DVT risk:
 

  • Tissue debris, protein, and fats may move into veins following surgery.
  • Vein walls can become damaged, which may also release substances that promote blood clotting.
  • Prolonged bed rest is common following surgery.

Other Causes of Deep Vein Thrombosis

Surgery isn't the only cause of deep vein thrombosis. Certain medical conditions or treatments may also increase your DVT risk. For starters, any condition that requires bed rest for more than three days increases your DVT risk. Other risk factors include:

  • An injury that reduces blood flow to part of your body, such as a broken hip or leg
  • Cancer, even during treatment
  • A previous history of deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism
  • An inherited condition that increases blood clotting
  • Paralysis from a spinal cord injury
  • Current use of hormone therapy, including that used for postmenopausal symptoms, especially in smokers
  • Pregnancy or having recently given birth, especially by C-section
  • Varicose veins, which are swollen, twisted, painful veins
  • A history of heart attack, stroke, or congestive heart failure
  • Inflammatory bowel disease

Lifestyle Factors That Cause Deep Vein Thrombosis

Your risk of deep vein thrombosis increases with age, especially after age 60. There are lifestyle factors that can also contribute: 

  • Sitting or inactivity for a long time
  • Long plane flights or long car trips
  • Extra weight
  • Current use of birth control pills or patches
  • Smoking

Less Common Causes of Deep Vein Thrombosis

Although rare, deep vein thrombosis can occur in the upper body. Factors that can raise your risk of developing DVT in your upper body include:

  • Insertion of a long, thin, flexible tube (catheter) in an arm vein
  • Insertion of a pacemaker or implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) for certain heart conditions
  • Cancer near a vein

 

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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on May 16, 2014

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