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.
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:
- Irregular heartbeat (heart palpitations)
- Heart failure, when your heart can't keep up with the body's demands
- Trouble breathing
- High blood pressure in the lung arteries, called pulmonary hypertension
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 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:
- 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: