If you’ve had DVT, there are ways to make sure you don’t have complications from it.
The greatest danger from DVT is that the clot will break loose from the vein, travel through the bloodstream, 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, a clot can travel to the brain and cause a stroke, to the heart and cause a heart attack, or to the kidneys and cause kidney failure.
The most common symptoms of PE:
- Coughing up blood
- Chest pain
- Unexplained shortness of breath
- Irregular heartbeat
Less common symptoms:
- Fast heartbeat
- Feeling lightheaded
Depending on the size of the clot and where it travels, it can sometimes be fatal.
As many as 600,000 people in the U.S. get DVT and PE every year. A clot in the lung can lower the oxygen levels in your blood, which can damage your other organs. PE can also damage the lung itself and cause increased pressure in the lung's arteries, called pulmonary hypertension.
Most people who are treated immediately for DVT and PE go on to lead normal lives. If you have symptoms, go to a hospital right away. Proper treatment will also help you avoid complications.
Postthrombotic Syndrome (PTS)
Another danger of DVT is called postthrombotic syndrome (PTS). Up to 60% of people with DVT get it. They develop long-term symptoms in the affected leg or arm after DVT, says Natalie Evans, MD, a vascular medicine specialist at the Cleveland Clinic.
The symptoms of PTS include:
- Color changes
“This is an important complication that is not well recognized, even among physicians,” Evans says. While PTS is usually mild, it can also be severe to the point of getting ulcers on the skin of the affected leg.
In PTS, the valves in the veins of the leg become stretched and don’t work properly. This causes blood to pool. You can't strengthen the valves, so it’s important that people who have had DVT stay active.
“The way that blood gets back to the heart from the feet and legs is by being squeezed up by the muscle action in our legs as we walk around,” Cooke says.
Lying with your legs elevated above your heart can also help reduce swelling and pain.
“Unfortunately there aren’t great preventive strategies for postthrombotic syndrome other than making sure you don’t get a DVT,” Evans says. “The current recommendation is that all patients with a DVT be fitted for prescription-strength compression stockings to try to prevent the PTS.”