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A deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot in a vein deep in your body. Usually it's in a lower leg, thigh, pelvis, or arm.

There aren't always symptoms. If there are, they usually include swelling and sometimes pain and tenderness.

“Typically, a person calls saying, ‘I’ve had three or four days of swelling in one of my legs and it won’t go down,’” says Terri Remy, MD, of Virginia Hospital Center.

You’re more likely to have a DVT if you:

  • Have a blood clotting disorder
  • Are obese
  • Take birth control pills
  • Are pregnant
  • Smoke
  • Have certain chronic conditions such as cancer, heart disease, lung disease, or inflammatory bowel disease
  • Are in a wheelchair
  • Can't get up and move around for a long time, such as on a long flight

Clot Risks

The biggest risk of a DVT is that it could travel through your blood vessels to your lungs. Once it's in your lungs, it's called a pulmonary embolism. That can damage your lungs or even be fatal.

Even if the DVT doesn't travel to your lungs, it can still be a problem. If the DVT gets too big, it could block blood flow through the vein. That can damage the valves in the vein. This can cause pain, swelling, and color changes in the legs. Compression stockings can help with symptoms.           

Treatments for DVT include drugs, vena cava filters, and compression stockings.

Avoiding DVT

DVT is preventable, says Charles Cutler, MD.

His advice:

  • Keep your weight healthy.
  • Be active.
  • On a long flight, get up to walk the aisle at least every 1-2 hours.
  • Road trip? Pull over often to take short walks.
  • If you must stay seated for a prolonged time, move your legs and flex your calves to keep your blood pumping.

If an injury or illness confines you to bed, move around as much and as soon as possible. Walking is particularly good to do.

Slideshow

Living With
Deep-Vein
Thrombosis

See the causes, dangers, and treatments of DVT in this slideshow.