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Deep Vein Thrombosis

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot that forms in a vein deep below the skin. It's most common in the large veins of the legs.

At the UPMC Division of Vascular Surgery, we take a team approach to quickly and accurately diagnose your DVT and create a treatment plan that's right for you.

Contact the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute

To request an appointment, contact the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute:

What is Deep Vein Thrombosis?

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot that occurs in a vein within the body — most commonly in the large veins of the thigh or lower leg.

Newly formed blood clots can break loose and travel to the heart or lungs. When a clot blocks the blood flow to the lungs, it causes a pulmonary embolism that can be fatal.

A DVT that goes unnoticed or untreated may lead to:

Causes of DVT

Blood clots may form when something slows or changes the flow of blood in the veins.

A DVT may occur spontaneously or result from a prior condition or treatment, such as:

  • Cancer
  • Certain autoimmune disorders, such as lupus or other genetic defects in blood clotting
  • Surgery — most often hip, knee, bariatric, or female pelvic surgery
  • Trauma, such as fractures in the pelvis or legs
  • Pregnancy
  • Bed rest or sitting in one position for too long during car or plane travel

DVT risks

DVTs are most common in people over age 60. But, they can occur at any age.

Other factors that can increase your risk for DVT include:

  • Cigarette smoking
  • Oral contraceptives
  • Hormone replacement therapy
  • Genetic predisposition to or family history of blood clots
  • Giving birth within the last 6 months
  • Obesity

Learn More About DVT Risks

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Deep Vein Thrombosis Symptoms and Diagnosis

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) mainly affects the large veins in the lower leg and thigh. It almost always occurs on one side of the body.

DVT symptoms

Symptoms of chronic or old DVT — called postphlebitic syndrome — include:

  • New or constant swelling in the leg
  • New or unusual pain in the calf or thigh
  • Change in skin color (redness) or skin that feels warm to the touch

Prolonged swelling may cause:

Diagnosing DVT

A quick and accurate DVT diagnosis is vital during a scheduled office appointment or a visit to the emergency room or hospital for suspicion of a blood clot in the lungs.

Crucial first steps your doctor at the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute will take include:

  • Talking with you about your DVT symptoms
  • Reviewing your medical history
  • Performing a physical exam

Ultrasound is the most common test to diagnose DVT. This noninvasive, painless scan uses ultrasound waves to create pictures of the blood flow through your veins.

Other diagnostic tests may include:

  • D-dimer blood test — measures a substance that a blood clot releases when it breaks up.
  • Computerized tomographic (CT) scan — uses cross-sectional x-rays and a computer to create detailed 3D images.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) — uses a large magnetic field, radio waves, and computers to create detailed images of your veins.

Learn More About DVT Symptoms and Tests 

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Deep Vein Thrombosis Treatment

Vascular surgeons at UPMC's Heart and Vascular Institute have broad experience in advanced methods for treating deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

Interventional procedures for treating acute or chronic DVT

  • Thrombolysis: a catheter delivers medication to break up a blood clot. Doctors perform thrombolysis in the hospital under careful monitoring.
  • Vena cava (IVC) filters: small, metal devices positioned in the vena cava — near the renal (kidney) veins — stop blood clots in the legs before they can travel to the heart and lungs and cause pulmonary embolism.
  • Venous stenting: stents (small tubes) in the vena cava or pelvic veins open a thrombosed vein and help relieve or prevent leg swelling. Vascular surgeons often perform venous stenting with thrombolysis — either right away or years after DVT is causing symptoms.

Surgery for treating DVT

  • Venous bypass: very rarely, you may need surgery to restore normal vein circulation. This happens most often after years of large deep vein clots. Surgeons at the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute's Vein Center perform this procedure.

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Deep Vein Thrombosis Educational Materials

The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute offers educational information and videos about deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and other heart and vascular diseases and treatments.

Many people find these resources helpful in answering their questions about DVT and preparing them for their procedure or diagnostic test.

The links below will open a new browser window. 

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