Complications of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)

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.

Pulmonary Embolism

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.

Postthrombotic Syndrome

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:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Darkened skin color
  • Skin sores
  • Varicose veins -- swollen, sometimes twisted or blue veins you can see under the skin

Because blood that isn't flowing well is more likely to clot, you could also get another DVT or a pulmonary embolism.

Prevention is key. Your doctor may recommend that you:

  • Wear compression stockings.
  • Keep your leg or arm raised while at rest.
  • Undergo a procedure that opens a narrow vein, such as a balloon angioplasty or stenting.
  • Get the clot removed with surgery.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Debra Jaliman, MD on July 11, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

American Venous Forum: "Acute Deep Venous Thrombosis and Its Complications."

WebMD Medical Reference from eMedicine: "Deep Venous Thrombosis."

MedlinePlus: "Medical Encyclopedia: Pulmonary Embolus."

NHS Choices: "Deep vein thrombosis - Complications."

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