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 good 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 an artery in the lungs, it's called a pulmonary embolism (PE). This can happen right after the clot forms, or it may happen later.
About 1 in 10 people with deep vein thrombosis will have a PE. That number may actually be much higher, though, because some people have 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 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 lungs, called pulmonary hypertension
- Sudden death in up to 1 in 4 people with a PE
You may need emergency care in the hospital. Doctors may give you medications that dissolve the clot (called thrombolytics) and prevent new clots (called anticoagulants or blood thinners). Depending on your symptoms and what your tests show, you may need other treatment, too.
Postthrombotic Syndrome or Chronic Venous Insufficiency
Post-thrombotic syndrome is usually mild, but some symptoms can be severe. They may not show up until years later. Up to 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. In addition to giving you medicine to prevent further clots, your doctor may recommend that you: