Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) and Pulmonary Embolism (PE) Prevention and Treatment
What are DVT and PE?
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot that forms inside the deep veins of the body, most often in the legs. DVTs alone are not life threatening. If the clot breaks free and moves to the lungs, it can stick in blood vessels there. This is called a pulmonary embolism (PE). A PE is dangerous and can be life-threatening. The chance of getting a PE is fairly low.
• Older age
• Broken bone
• Heart problems
• Being overweight
• Birth control pills
• Hormone replacement therapy
• Blood clotting problems
• Little activity
• Being hospitalized
If you are at risk for a DVT or PE, there are ways to try to prevent it. You may be asked to wear compression socks or leg pumps. These help increase blood flow in your legs and may decrease your chance of getting a blood clot. If you are able, you may also be asked to go for walks or do exercises that help improve the blood flow in your legs. Your doctor may prescribe a blood thinning medicine. This medicine could be an injection in your belly or a pill you take by mouth. It is often stopped when the risk for DVT goes down, such as when you leave the hospital or return to your normal activity level.
Signs and Symptoms of DVT Signs and Symptoms of PE
• Pain in arm or leg • Chest pain, shortness of breath
• Swelling or redness in arm or leg • Rapid heart beat or breathing
• Warm spot in arm or leg • Low grade fever
• Cough, with or without blood
How is a DVT Diagnosed?
•The most common test to find out if you have a DVT is the Doppler scan or Doppler ultrasound.
How is a PE Diagnosed?
•The most common test to find out if you have a PE is a CT scan. A chest x-ray or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may also be used.
Most DVTs and PEs are treated with blood thinning medicines. These are the same medicines that can be used to prevent DVT and PE from forming. They are used in higher doses or for longer periods of time when used to treat a DVT or PE. Blood thinners will help prevent a clot from getting bigger and new clots from forming. Blood thinners can be given by mouth, by injection into the skin or directly into the vein (IV).
Compression socks are often used to help increase blood flow while the clot dissolves. You should keep the arm or leg that has a blood clot raised above the level of your heart. This helps to decrease swelling as the clot shrinks. Some patients who have a very high risk for blood clots have a filter placed in a large blood vessel. This prevents a DVT in the leg from moving up to the lung. It would be placed by a surgeon in the operating room.
Some patients benefit from preventative blood thinners at home, even if they do not have a blood clot. These blood thinners are often used for about 2-4 weeks after hospital discharge. If you will be using a blood thinner that is injected into the skin, be sure you know how to give this medicine.
If you have a blood clot, follow instructions carefully. If you need to have a blood test, be sure to know when to have it drawn and who will follow up on the result. Most patients who have a blood clot will need to be on a blood thinner for at least 3 months. Some patients may be told to stay on blood thinners longer.
Call your doctor if:
• You have unusual bruising or bleeding
• You have chest pain
• You have shortness of breath
• You cough up or vomit blood
• You have black stools that look like tar
• You have new or increased pain or swelling in your leg or arm
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: 07/10/2013
Copyright © 07/09/2013 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#7522
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