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Are You at Risk for Deep Vein Thrombosis?

Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) and Pulmonary Embolism (PE) are a major public health problem in the United States. Estimates suggest that 300,000 to 600,000 Americans have DVT/PE each year, and that 60, 000 to 100,000 people die as a result. Many of those who have a DVT or PE also have complications that can greatly impact their quality of life.

Everybody should know the risk factors, symptoms, and steps they can take to protect themselves.

Factors that Increase the Risk of Developing DVT Include:

  • Photo: Airplane passengers looking out of the windowMajor surgery
  • Immobility, such as being in the hospital and long travel
  • Recent injury
  • Increased estrogen, from birth control pills, pregnancy, and certain medications
  • Certain chronic medical illnesses, such as heart disease and cancer
  • Previous DVT
  • Age (risk increases as age increases)
  • Obesity
  • Smoking

Know the Symptoms

Deep Vein Thrombosis

About half of people with DVT have no symptoms at all. For those who do have symptoms, the following are the most common and occur in the affected part of the body (usually the leg):

  • Swelling
  • Pain
  • Tenderness
  • Redness of the skin

Pulmonary Embolism

  • Hard to breathe
  • Faster than normal heart beat
  • Chest pain or discomfort, which usually worsens with a deep breath or coughing
  • Cough up blood
  • Very low blood pressure or lightheadedness, or black out

If you have any of these symptoms, you should seek medical help immediately.

Steps You Can Take to Protect Yourself

The following tips can help prevent DVT:

CDC in collaboration with the Venous Disease Coalition (VDC) launched This is Serious, a national campaign to increase awareness and action around the prevention of DVT and PE among women. The campaign encourages women to be aware of DVT/PE symptoms, and to talk to their doctors about their risks. The campaign will be conducted through a variety of channels including live community education activities, a website, and printed materials.

  • Move around as soon as possible after having been confined to bed, such as after surgery, illness, or injury.
  • If you're at risk for DVT, talk to your doctor about:
    • Graduated compression stockings (sometimes called "medical compression stockings";)
    • Medication (anticoagulants) to prevent DVT.
  • When sitting for long periods of time, such as when traveling for more than four hours:
    • Get up and walk around every 2 to 3 hours.
    • Exercise your legs while you're sitting by:
    • Raising and lowering your heels while keeping your toes on the floor
      • Raising and lowering your toes while keeping your heels on the floor
      • Tightening and releasing your leg muscles
    • Wear loose-fitting clothes.
    • Drink plenty of water, and avoid drinking anything with alcohol or caffeine in it.
    • Exercise regularly, maintain a healthy weight, and don't smoke

CDC Activities

CDC is conducting research to learn more about risk factors, and improve the diagnosis and treatment of DVT/PEby funding the Thrombosis and Hemostasis Centers Research and Prevention Network. In addition, CDC funds health promotion and wellness initiative to provide people with information about how to prevent DVT and its complications.

More Information

  • Page last reviewed: March 7, 2011
  • Page last updated: March 7, 2011
  • Content source:
    • Office of the Associate Director for Communication, Digital Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs
    • Page maintained by: Office of the Associate Director for Communication, Digital Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs