Treatments of DVT and PE
Medication is used to prevent and treat DVT. Anticoagulants (blood thinners) are the medicines most commonly used. Although called blood thinners, these medications do not actually thin the blood. They work by stopping the clotting process and preventing the clot from becoming larger. The most frequently used medications are heparin, low molecular weight heparin (LMWH), and warfarin. All of these medications can cause bleeding, so people taking them have to be monitored to prevent unusual bleeding.
Initial treatment of a clot is usually with heparin. Heparin is a powerful anticoagulant that is given IV (through a needle placed in the vein) or by an injection that works very quickly to stop clotting. Heparin is usually given while a person is in the hospital. Because heparin can cause bleeding, a person has to be monitored closely to prevent bleeding.
LMWH is similar to heparin, but is given by an injection under the skin. People who take LMWH do not require frequent blood tests to monitor for bleeding, so this drug can be given at home.
Warfarin (Coumadin™) is a medicine that is taken by mouth. Warfarin works to stop clotting but because it takes some time to become effective it is usually started while a person is taking heparin or LMWH. Once it is effective the heparin is stopped and a person continues treatment with warfarin at home. People who take warfarin have to be monitored with frequent blood tests to see how the drug is working and to make sure that they are not at risk of bleeding. While taking warfarin it is important to eat a consistent diet and let your health care provider know if you change medications, because many foods and other medications affect the way that warfarin works.
Compression stockings (also called graduated compression stockings) are sometimes recommended to prevent DVT and relieve pain and swelling. These might need to be worn for 2 years or more after having DVT.
In severe cases, the clot might need to be removed surgically.
Emergency treatment at a hospital is necessary to treat PE. In cases of severe, life-threatening PE, there are medicines that can dissolve the clot (thrombolytics) and medicines that prevent more clots from forming (anticoagulants).
Surgery is sometimes needed for patients at great risk for another PE.
Research and Treatment Centers
CDC supports the Thrombosis and Hemostasis Centers Research and Treatment Centers to foster collaborative epidemiologic research designed to identify risks for DVT/PE among the U.S. population and ultimately to improve diagnosis and treatment of these conditions. The centers collect data from patients of all ages and races while providing services to patients with DVT/PE and other thrombotic conditions. Currently, CDC funds five centers. These centers have multidisciplinary teams of health care specialists and state-of-the art clinical research programs that provide outreach and education programs for patients. Below is the contact information for these centers.
- Page last reviewed: December 9, 2014
- Page last updated: December 9, 2014
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