Most people are fully healed from a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) within a few weeks or months. But if you’re recovering from this type of blood clot (which happens in a large vein, most often in your leg), you might be worried about how it will change your life and whether it will happen again. Learning about the condition and taking charge of your treatment can help you feel more in control.
What Are the Chances of Another Clot?
Everyone’s odds are different, based on several things:
What caused the DVT?
Blood clots often happen when a blood vessel has been damaged, like from surgery, a broken bone, or another kind of injury. In these cases, it’s less likely you’ll have another one.
Your chances are also lower if your DVT happened because you:
- Were on bed rest
- Were sitting a long time because of travel
- Took birth control or hormone replacement therapy
- Were pregnant or recently had a baby
Other times, your doctor may not know what caused the clot, or it might have been caused by something you can’t change. You may be more likely to get another one if you:
- Have cancer
- Are paralyzed or bedridden
- Have an inflammatory disorder like lupus or Crohn’s disease
- Have a blood clotting disorder or a family history of blood clots
Where was the DVT?
A clot in your thigh or pelvis is more likely to break loose and make its way to an artery in your lungs (called a pulmonary embolism) than a clot in your lower leg or arm.
The more of these that apply to you, the greater your chances of another DVT:
- You’re over age 40.
- You’re a man.
- You’re overweight or obese.
- You smoke.
Understanding Your Treatment
You probably take medicine that makes your blood slower to clot. These drugs, called anticoagulants or blood thinners, can keep a DVT from getting bigger while your body breaks it down. They also can help keep another clot from forming. Some are given as shots, and some are pills.
It usually takes about 3 months to treat a DVT. If you aren’t likely to have another one, you may be able to stop taking blood thinners at that point. People whose chances are higher may need to stay on them for years. Talk with your doctor about what’s best for you. Because anticoagulants can cause uncontrolled bleeding, your odds of a stroke or other bleeding problem should be part of your decision.
Your treatment plan will be different depending on which medication you take. For decades, warfarin (Coumadin, Jantoven) has been the go-to drug for treating a DVT. It can take a few tries to get the dose right, and it may need to be changed from time to time, so you’ll get your blood tested often -- maybe two or three times a week at the beginning of treatment. Later, you may only go in once a month.
The things you eat and drink and the drugs and supplements you take can affect the way warfarin works, so you may need to make some lifestyle changes. For example, vitamin K helps your body form blood clots, and foods that have a lot of it may change how blood thinners work.
You can still eat a healthy diet, but the amount of vitamin K-rich foods that you eat, such as leafy green vegetables, fish, and liver, should stay about the same from day to day.
Another kind of blood thinner is called a direct-acting oral anticoagulant. These include apixaban (Eliquis,) betrixaban (Bevyxxa,) dabigatran (Pradaxa,) edoxaban (Savaysa,) and rivaroxaban (Xarelto). You don’t need your blood tested while you’re on them, and you don’t have to be as careful with food or other medicines.
If you take blood thinners for a long time, you should see your doctor at least once a year to talk about the pros and cons.
How to Help Yourself
In addition to taking your medication as your doctor instructed, you can do a few other things to make another DVT less likely.
- Get up and around as soon as you safely can after an injury or surgery. Staying active helps your blood flow like it should.
- Try not to sit for more than a couple of hours at a time at work or in front of the TV.
- On long trips, get up and walk the aisle of the plane or stop the car to take a walk every hour or two. If you can’t move around, flex and point your toes, or tighten and release your leg muscles.
- Stay a healthy weight.
- Don’t smoke.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Let all your doctors know you’ve had a DVT or are taking blood thinners, including your dentist.
- Ask your doctor if compression stockings might help. They’re designed to keep blood from collecting in your lower legs.
Complications and Outlook
Up to half of people with DVT will have long-term complications because of damage to the leg vein (post-thrombotic syndrome), where blood remains too long (chronic venous insufficiency). You may notice pain, swelling, and redness, which can develop into open sores if you don’t get early treatment. This can make daily activities and even walking more difficult.
About a third of people who have had a DVT or PE have a higher risk of another incident.
The biggest worry for a DVT is that it breaks off and lodges in a lung (pulmonary embolism). If the clot isn’t too big and you get the right treatment in time, you may recover from this, though there may be some long-term lung damage.
A pulmonary embolism is a serious emergency. Get help right away if you have any of these:
- Sudden shortness of breath
- Fast breathing
- Pain when you take a deep breath
- Fast or irregular heartbeat
- Coughing up blood
- Lightheadedness or fainting
Blood thinners raise your chances of uncontrolled bleeding. Watch for these signs:
- Intense headache
- Stroke symptoms, like confusion, weakness, or slurred speech
- Throwing up blood
- Blood in your urine or stool
- Unusually heavy vaginal bleeding
- Low blood pressure symptoms like weakness, dizziness, and shortness of breath
It may be hard to tell if your symptoms are related to the first clot or if you have a new one. Don’t wait to call your doctor if you’re notice any symptoms, especially if you know you have a DVT or have had one in the past.
When to See Your Doctor After a DVT
If you get emergency care for a DVT, it’s important to follow up with your regular doctor within a few days. They will give your more details about your condition and help guide you through the next phase of your care. They also might refer you to a doctor that specializes in conditions like DVT.
Managing Your Anxiety
It’s normal to be worried about having another DVT, but talking about it may help, whether it’s with a friend or family member or a professional. Look for an online or in-person support group, and let your doctor know what you’re feeling. If necessary, you can get a referral for therapy or medication for your anxiety.