Prevention of Deep Vein Thrombosis and Pulmonary Embolism (DVT and PE)
What are DVT and PE?
Deep vein thrombosis is a blood clot that forms in the deep veins of the body, most often in the veins in the legs or pelvis. DVTs alone are not life threatening. If the clot breaks free and moves to the lungs, it can lodge in vessels there. This is called a pulmonary embolism. A PE is dangerous and can be life-threatening. The risk of developing a PE is fairly low.
- Increased age
- Fracture of pelvis, hip or leg
- Cardiac problems
- Birth control pills
- Hormone replacement therapy
- Prior DVT
- Little activity
- Blood clotting disorders
In the hospital
While you are in the hospital, we work to prevent you from getting a DVT or a PE. You may be asked to wear compression stockings, leg pumps, or foot pumps during your stay. These help to increase blood flow in your legs and decrease your chance of getting a blood clot. If you are able, you may also be asked to walk regularly or do range of motion exercises in order to help your circulation. Your doctor will prescribe a medicine for you that is a blood thinner. This medicine is most often given as an injection into your abdomen.
Previous studies we have done have shown some patients benefit if they go home on preventative doses of a blood thinner for two weeks. This medicine is given as an injection into your abdomen or thigh. Before you leave, the nurse will teach you or a family member how to give this medicine. Patients who most often go home with this medicine:
- Are 60 years old or older AND have a diagnosis of cancer or a suspected diagnosis of cancer.
- Have a past history of DVT or PE regardless of age or diagnosis of cancer.
- Are special cases that the surgeon decides will benefit.
Signs and Symptoms of DVT
Pain or tenderness may be present in the area where a clot has formed. Some patients may have swelling, redness, warmth, or discoloration of the affected area.
Signs and Symptoms of PE
Chest pain, shortness of breath, a rapid pulse and/or rapid breathing all may occur with a PE. Some patients may also have a low grade fever or a cough.
A DVT is diagnosed by physical exam, or by an ultrasound. A PE is diagnosed by physical exam, chest x-ray, CT scan, or MRI scan.
DVTs are most often treated with medicines such as blood thinners. Blood thinners will help to prevent a clot from getting bigger, and new clots from forming. Compression stockings are often used to help the circulation while the clot dissolves. Raising the affected limb will also help to decrease swelling as the clot dissolves. Some patients may get a filter surgically placed into a vessel that will prevent an existing DVT from being able to travel to the lung.
The information provided should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
Last Updated: 08/25/2010
Copyright © 08/25/2010 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#7083
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