Blood Clots

[bluhd] [klots]

Woman hiking

Blood clots include deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism (PE), which are serious, but preventable medical conditions. DVT is a blood clot in a deep vein, usually in the lower leg, thigh, or pelvis, but it can occur in other places, like the arm. If a DVT breaks off and travels through the bloodstream to the lungs, it causes a PE, which is a blockage of arteries in the lungs. Together, DVT and PE are known as venous thromboembolism (VTE). It is important to know about VTE because it can happen to anybody and can cause serious illness, disability, and even death. Many VTE events are preventable and if found early, can be treated.

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Key Facts

  • Knowing the signs and symptoms of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism (PE) is critical for early detection.
  • Signs and symptoms of DVT include swelling, pain, tenderness, and redness of the skin in the affected area of the body.
  • PEs can occur without any signs of a DVT and they can be deadly.
  • Signs and symptoms of a PE include difficulty breathing, chest pain, irregular heartbeat, and coughing up blood.
  • Seek immediate medical care if you experience symptoms of a DVT or PE.

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Man in hospital with swollen foot

Hospitalization, Surgery, and Injuries

Injury to a vein, often caused by fractures, severe muscle injury, or major surgery (particularly involving the abdomen, pelvis, hip, or legs), can increase the risk for developing blood clots. A clot that occurs from a hospitalization, surgery, or other healthcare treatment or procedure is called a healthcare-associated venous thromboembolism (HA-VTE). About 50% of blood clots are healthcare-associated.

Women in airplane

Prolonged Immobility

People who have slowed blood flow caused by confinement to a bed (such as due to a medical condition or after surgery), limited movement (such as a cast on a leg to help heal an injured bone), sitting for a long time, especially with crossed legs (such as when traveling), or paralysis, are at increased risk for blood clots.

Pregnant woman being examined by doctor

Increased Estrogen

Increased estrogen can increase the risk of developing blood clots. Increased estrogen can occur in women taking birth control pills, receiving hormone replacement therapy, or who are pregnant (including up to 6 weeks after giving birth).

Man in hospital

Cancer and Chronic Illness

Patients are at higher risk for blood clots if they have a chronic disease, such as heart disease, lung disease, or inflammatory bowel disease. People with cancer and those receiving cancer treatment also have an increased risk for developing a blood clot. In some cases, blood clots may be the first indication of undiagnosed cancer.

Doctor looking at chart with patient

History of Blood Clots

Other factors that may increase a person’s risk for developing a blood clot include previous blood clots, family history of blood clots, and certain genetic (inherited) clotting disorders.

Doctor consulting with patient

Other Risk Factors

Age (risk increases as age increases), obesity, smoking, or a catheter located in a central vein may also increase a person’s risk for blood clots. Speak to your doctor about your risk for developing blood clots today!

Prevention Tips

  • Move around as soon as possible after having been confined to a bed, such as after surgery, illness, or injury.
  • If you are at risk for blood clots, talk with your doctor about specific ways you can prevent them from occurring. Compression devices (like compression stockings) and medication (anticoagulants) are two ways 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 are sitting, and wear loose-fitting clothes.
  • You can reduce your risk for blood clots by maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding a sedentary lifestyle. In other words, exercise improves blood flow, so don’t be a couch potato.
  • It’s especially important to know your risk for blood clots and follow your doctor’s recommendations based on your individual risk factors.

More at CDC.gov

Page last reviewed: June 25, 2019