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Preventing DVT: The Basics

Each year as many as 600,000 Americans (half of them women) will suffer deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and the potentially deadly complication pulmonary embolism.1 In 9 out of 10 cases a DVT can be prevented by getting your DVT risk factors under control and taking steps to prevent a clot from forming in situations that can trigger them.2

Step 1: Identify and Control Your DVT Risk Factors

The first step towards preventing DVT is to know if you have conditions or characteristics that increase your risk of developing blood clots, called risk factors. See Am I at Risk for DVT for a list of common DVT risk factors and links to articles that tell you what they are, how to know if you have them, and how they affect your risk of blood clots in the veins.

If you have any of the risk factors for DVT, you can lower your risk by working with your doctor to get them under control. Some basic steps you can take to prevent a DVT:

Step 2: Know How to Avoid Triggering a DVT

Certain high-risk situations can sometimes "trigger" a blood clot to form, especially in women with DVT risk factors. If you are at risk for blood clots in the veins and you are going to be exposed to these situations, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk.

Long-haul Travel

Sitting still for a long time while traveling, whether on an airplane flight or in a car, bus, or train, increases your risk of DVT. Immobility during travel of 4 hours or more doubles your risk of DVT for weeks after, and longer travel increases it even more.3,4

Some tips to prevent blood clots while traveling or sitting for long periods:

Hospitalization & Surgery

Long periods of immobility during hospitalization or after major surgery are common blood clot triggers. Surgery itself can also injure blood vessel and make blood more likely to clot. Studies have found that only one in three patients receives proven DVT-prevention measures in the hospital, and women may be less likely to receive them than men.2,5

You are at highest risk for DVT during hospitalization or surgery if you have other DVT risk factors and:

Because healthcare providers often overlook proven DVT prevention strategies, women at risk need to be proactive to ensure they receive the best possible care. Some tips to help lower your risk of blood clots:

If you need extended bed rest, another device that can be used to prevent blood clots is called an intermittent pneumatic compression device (IPC). An air pump machine alternately inflates and deflates knee-high boots to force blood out of the legs and back to the heart.

Pregnancy

Because of hormonal and other changes, women are at increased risk for DVT during pregnancy and the first few months after the baby is born (called the postpartum period). A woman is at higher risk if she has other DVT risk factors. Depending on your risk, you may need to take blood-thinning medications or wear compression stockings during and after pregnancy to prevent clots.

To learn more, see Pregnancy & Vein Disease Risk.

Step 3: Know how to Recognize the Signs and Symptoms of DVT

Working with your doctor to identify conditions that are putting you at risk and getting them under control will go a long way towards preventing a DVT. Unfortunately, it is not possible to eliminate the risk of DVT completely. Be sure you know how to recognize the signs of DVT and seek prompt medical attention if you experience them. Proven treatments are available to prevent future blood clots, avoid a potentially deadly pulmonary embolism, and prevent vein damage that can cause long-term vein disease.

References

  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Surgeon General's Call to Action to Prevent Deep Vein Thrombosis and Pulmonary Embolism. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; September 15 2008.
  2. Goldhaber SZ, Tapson VF. A prospective registry of 5,451 patients with ultrasound-confirmed deep vein thrombosis. Am J Cardiol. Jan 15 2004;93(2):259-262.
  3. Cannegieter SC, Doggen CJ, van Houwelingen HC, Rosendaal FR. Travel-related venous thrombosis: results from a large population-based case control study (MEGA study). PLoS Med. Aug 2006;3(8):e307.
  4. Kuipers S, Schreijer AJ, Cannegieter SC, Buller HR, Rosendaal FR, Middeldorp S. Travel and venous thrombosis: a systematic review. J Intern Med. Dec 2007;262(6):615-634.
  5. Anderson FA, Jr., Wheeler HB, Goldberg RJ, Hosmer DW, Forcier A, Patwardhan NA. Physician practices in the prevention of venous thromboembolism. Ann Intern Med. Oct 15 1991;115(8):591-595.

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