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Venous Thromboembolism

A venous thromboembolism (VTE) occurs when a blood clot forms in a vein. It can lead to serious, even life-threatening problems like deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or pulmonary embolism (PE).

The experts at the UPMC Division of Vascular Surgery provide the latest treatments for VTE.

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What Is Venous Thromboembolism?

A venous thromboembolism (VTE) is a blood clot in a vein.

Doctors link VTE to two serious, potentially life-threatening conditions:

  • Deep vein thrombosis (DVT), which happens when a blood clot forms in a vein deep below your skin, often in the legs. If a clot breaks loose, it can travel to your heart, lungs, or brain. This blocks blood flow to these vital organs and can lead to life-threatening complications.
  • Pulmonary embolism (PE) happens when a blood clot breaks loose and blocks an artery in the lungs, which can be life threatening.

Venous thromboembolism risk factors and causes

You can either inherit or acquire a VTE.

A VTE results from slow movement of blood through the veins, which can stop flowing freely and cause a clot to form.

Anyone can have a VTE, but some risk factors include:

  • Being idle during an extended hospital stay.
  • Long periods of travel, especially on an airplane.
  • History of blood clots.
  • Estrogen-based drugs (birth control or hormone replacement therapy).
  • Cancer treatment.
  • Obesity.
  • Pregnancy or recently having a baby.
  • Smoking.

Venous thromboembolism complications

VTEs can lead to serious health problems that can be fatal, including PE and stroke.

Treatment and follow-up care are vital to help manage long-term complications, such as:

  • Post-thrombotic syndrome.
  • Chronic thromboembolic pulmonary hypertension.

If you or someone else suspects a blood clot, contact a medical professional right away.

Venous Thromboembolism (VTE) Symptoms and Diagnosis

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism (PE) each have their own distinct symptoms, as they affect different parts of the body. Both of these conditions are medical emergencies.

DVT symptoms

  • Pain or tenderness that starts in the lower leg.
  • Swelling below the knee.
  • Redness, discoloration, and warmth.

PE symptoms

  • Shortness of breath.
  • Rapid breathing and heart rate.
  • Chest pain.
  • Lightheadedness.
  • Loss of consciousness.

VTE diagnosis

To avoid life-threatening complications, a quick diagnosis of VTE is crucial.

If you're in the hospital, your care team will watch for signs of this condition.

If you've recently left the hospital — especially after childbirth or surgery in the lower part of your body — be mindful of VTE.

To find the blood clot and diagnose VTE, your doctor will order tests such as:

  • Ultrasound imaging
  • CT scan
  • Angiography

Venous Thromboembolism Treatment

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism (PE) require immediate medical attention.

Treatment can include:

  • Blood thinning drugs (anticoagulants) to break up clots and prevent new ones.
  • Thrombolysis, which uses a catheter to deliver medicine directly to the site of the clot.
  • Thrombectomy, which uses a catheter to remove the clot.
  • Vena cava (IVC) filters, which are small metal devices in the vena cava, near the renal (kidney) veins. IVC filters stop blood clots in the legs before they can travel to the heart, lungs, or brain.
  • Venous stenting, which uses small tubes made of metal mesh to hold open the vein.
  • Compression garments to lessen swelling (edema) and prevent long-term problems.