If you have a clot in a deep vein, you're at risk for damage to your veins and organs as well as other life-threatening problems. Not everyone who gets DVT will have trouble, but there's a decent chance you could be affected.
Stick to your DVT treatment plan to help your body break down your clot and keep your blood moving. Ask your doctor what else you can do about these complications.
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.
DVT in the leg is the most common cause. If your blood clot comes loose from the vein and moves through your bloodstream so it ends up partly or completely blocking a lung artery, it's called a pulmonary embolism (PE). This can happen right after the clot forms, or it may happen later.
At least 1 in 10 people with deep vein thrombosis have a PE. That number may actually be much higher, though, because 3 out of 4 cause no symptoms and go undiagnosed.
If you have any of these symptoms, call 911 or go to the emergency room right away.
Sudden cough, which may be bloody
Rapid breathing or sudden shortness of breath, even while resting
Chest pain: sharp or stabbing, burning, aching, or dull (might get worse with deep breaths, coughing, eating, or bending)
Sudden rapid heart rate
PE can lead to even more serious problems, including:
You may need emergency care in the hospital. Doctors can give you medications that dissolve the clot (thrombolytics) and prevent new clots (anticoagulants, or blood thinners). Depending on your symptoms and what your tests show, you may need other treatment, too.
When a clot stays in your leg or arm for too long, it can damage the vein or its valves. Valves that don't work right let blood backflow and pool, instead of pushing it toward the heart.
Postthrombotic syndrome is usually mild, but some symptoms can be severe. They may not show up until years later. Maybe half of people with DVT end up with long-term effects where the clot was: