How to Prevent Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)

DVT is a blood clot that forms deep in your veins, most often in your leg. It can partially or completely block blood flow back to the heart and damage the one-way valves in your veins. It can also break free and travel to major organs, such as your lungs, which can be very dangerous. About 1 in 10 people die from DVT complications.

About 350,000 Americans are diagnosed with these blood clots each year, and almost as many have them and don't know it. Even if you're at risk, you can take steps to prevent DVT.

Everyday Living and Medical Conditions

Exercise regularly -- daily, if possible. Walking, swimming, and bicycling are all great activities. Exercise will also help you manage your weight, along with eating a low-fat, high-fiber diet with lots of vegetables and fruits.

If you smoke, quit! Nicotine patches, gums, or sprays and prescription medications, along with support groups, can make kicking the habit easier.

Check your blood pressure at least once a year, more often if your doctor says to. Follow his instructions about taking medication if you need it. Exercise, eating well, and quitting smoking will help control your blood pressure, too.

Tell your doctor about any blood-clotting problems you or a close family member has had.

Women on birth control pills or hormone-replacement therapy or who are pregnant should talk to their doctors about their options to avoid DVT.

After Surgery or While on Bed Rest

Your surgeon will let you know if DVT could be a problem for you. Sometimes, the risk is greatest right after surgery and for about 10 days afterward. Or you may get DVT because you're less active in the months following the procedure.

Your doctor may prescribe blood thinners, also called anticoagulants:

When you're in the operating room, local anesthesia that numbs just the area the doctor is working on might be better than general anesthesia that knocks you out. You may want to wear compression sleeves on your legs to help keep your blood flowing.

During recovery, make the foot of your bed taller than the pillow end. Do any exercises, such as leg lifts and ankle movements that your doctor recommends. Take your pain medicine to make it easier. Get out of bed and start ramping up your activity as soon as you can safely.

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When Traveling

On flights longer than 4 hours, get up and move around. Take the opportunity to walk and stretch between connecting flights, too.

When you're traveling by car, stop every hour to walk around.

If you're stuck in your seat, work the muscles in your legs often throughout your trip:

  • Stretch your legs.
  • Flex your feet.
  • Curl or press your toes down.

Drink plenty of fluids, but avoid coffee and alcohol. They'll dehydrate you, which makes your veins narrower and blood thicker, so you're more likely to get a clot.

Don't wear short, tight socks, and try not to cross your legs a lot. You might want to wear compression stockings. They'll help your blood flow and keep swelling down.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on August 17, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

American Heart Association: "Venous Thromboembolism & Pulmonary Embolism - Statistics."

Goldhaber, S. Circulation, 2002.

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: "Deep Vein Thrombosis."

American Academy of Family Physicians: "Deep Vein Thrombosis: What You Should Know."

Society for Vascular Surgery: "Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)."

FDA: "Avoid Deep Vein Thrombosis: Keep the Blood Flowing."

National Center for Biotechnology Information: "Deep Vein Thrombosis and Pulmonary Embolism as Major Public Health Problems."

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