Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot that forms in a vein inside a muscle. It usually happens in your legs, but you can also get them in your arms, chest, and other areas of your body.
It can be serious. It may make your leg hurt and swell. The clot might move and get stuck in a blood vessel in your lungs, brain, or heart. That could cause organ damage and even death -- within hours.
The greatest danger from deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is that the clot will break loose, travel through your blood, and damage an organ.
"The place it gets stuck most commonly is the lungs, and that's called a pulmonary embolism (PE)," says Molly Cooke, MD, of the University of California, San Francisco. Less often, another clot can form and travel to the brain and cause a stroke. If a clot travels to the heart, it could cause a heart attack. A clot in the kidneys can cause kidney failure.
The main cause of DVT is poor blood flow. When it slows, blood can pool, which gives the cells a chance to stick together and start clotting. Someone whose blood clots easily is also at greater risk.
You're more likely to get a clot after any surgery that reduces blood flow to a part of your body or after major surgery on your legs, belly, or chest. That includes orthopedic surgery, such as a hip replacement, and abdominal surgery where you'll be under general anesthesia for more than 30 minutes.
The procedure could set tissue, protein, and fats loose in your veins. If the wall of a vein gets accidently damaged, it can release chemicals that trigger blood clotting.
Following major surgery, you'll probably be on bed rest. You won't be using your leg muscles, and that slows your blood flow.
Medical Conditions and Treatments
DVT can happen at any age, but being older than 60 makes it more likely.
Any illness that puts you in bed for more than 3 days can set you up for DVT. And if you've had circulation or clotting problems before, you could have them again.
These are some of the most common medical risk factors for DVT:
An injury that lessens blood flow, such as a broken pelvis, hip, or leg