Prevention of Deep Vein Thrombosis

In This Article

While DVT can be treated, by far the best “treatment” for DVT is to prevent it from occurring in the first place. Anybody can develop a DVT, so everyone should be aware of its risk factors and take common-sense steps to reduce their risk. Some people are especially prone to develop DVT, and may need to take specific measures to prevent one from occurring.

General Measures for Everyone

There are several lifestyle measures we can take to help prevent DVT. It turns out these measures are also helpful for reducing our risk of cardiovascular disease in general. These include:

  • Getting plenty of exercise. Lack of exercise is unhealthy for many reasons, but it is certainly a major risk factor for DVT. Almost any kind of exercise can reduce your risk; simply walking is a great way to do so. Even if you have a job where you have to sit all day (or if you are just habitually sitting), get up and move around every hour or so.
  • Keep your weight where it should be. People who are overweight have an elevated risk for DVT and maintaining a healthy weight (or losing weight if you have too much) can reduce your odds of having a DVT.
  • Don’t smoke. Smoking can wreck your health in many terrible ways, including by causing heart attacks and cancer. Smoking also greatly increases your risk of developing DVT. If you smoke, here’s another reason to quit.

Special Measures

Some people have an especially elevated risk for DVT. In addition to employing the lifestyle measures just listed, they should be taking special precautions to lower that risk—often under the direction of their doctors. These special circumstances include the following.

Hypertension

People with hypertension are at increased risk for DVT. Making sure you are following your doctor’s instructions and taking your antihypertensive medication will lower that risk.

Prolonged Travel

Long trips by airplane or car can substantially increase your risk of DVT. If you are traveling, you should get up and move around every hour or so. If you simply cannot do that, you should frequently stretch your legs, flex your feet, curl your toes, and stay well hydrated.

You should also avoid wearing tight socks if you are traveling.

Pregnancy, Birth Control Pills, and Hormone Replacement Therapy

Women who are pregnant or taking birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy have an elevated risk for DVT. Smoking especially increases the risk of DVT in these women.

In addition to making appropriate lifestyle adjustments, women who find themselves in these categories should talk with their doctors to see if other measures might be helpful to prevent DVT.

Heart Failure

Heart failure increases your risk of DVT, especially if you have edema of the lower extremities. Again, getting exercise, controlling your weight, and not smoking are especially important. Some people with heart failure should be on anticoagulant medication to help prevent blood clots, so this is something you will want to discuss with your doctor.

Recent Hospitalization or Surgery

If you have recently been confined by hospitalization or surgery and have been unable to move around normally, your risk of DVT is probably elevated. You should talk to your doctor about preventive measures you can take to reduce that risk.

These measures may include elevating the foot of your bed, doing specific exercises such as leg lifts and ankle rotations several times a day, taking pain medication sufficient to allow you to move around as much as possible, and, sometimes, taking anticoagulant medication.

Previous DVT

People who have had a DVT have an especially elevated risk of having another one. Obviously, they should take the preventive precautions we have been discussing. Often, in addition, they should be taking anticoagulant medication chronically to help prevent further abnormal clotting.

Since they have experienced a DVT and know what the symptoms are like, they should be alert to any sign that the DVT may be returning, and if so seek immediate medical help.

Compression Stockings

The use of medical-grade (that is, prescription) graduated compression stockings to prevent DVT is surprisingly controversial. Most experts do not recommend them in general, except perhaps in people who have had a recently treated DVT; in these people, compression stockings may reduce the risk of recurrent DVT. 

Over-the-counter “compression stockings” don’t provide nearly the compression that the prescription type provide and may even compress the legs in the wrong place. There is no evidence that they help prevent DVT in anybody, and most doctors do not recommend them.

Deep Vein Thrombosis Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Doctor Discussion Guide Man
Was this page helpful?

Article Sources

  1. McLendon K, Attia M. Deep Venous Thrombosis (DVT) Risk Factors. [Updated 2019 Mar 1]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2019 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470215/

  2. Borch KH, Hansen-Krone I, Braekkan SK, et al. Physical activity and risk of venous thromboembolism. The Tromso studyHaematologica. 2010;95(12):2088–2094. doi:10.3324/haematol.2009.020305

  3. Cundiff DK, Agutter PS, Malone PC, Pezzullo JC. Diet as prophylaxis and treatment for venous thromboembolism?Theor Biol Med Model. 2010;7:31. Published 2010 Aug 11. doi:10.1186/1742-4682-7-31

  4. Rexiti P, Wutiku M, Wulamu W, Bai F, Cao L. Pulmonary hypertension could be a risk for deep vein thrombosis in lower extremities after joint replacement surgery. Rev Assoc Med Bras (1992). 2019;65(7):946-950.

  5. Philbrick JT, Shumate R, Siadaty MS, Becker DM. Air travel and venous thromboembolism: a systematic reviewJ Gen Intern Med. 2007;22(1):107–114. doi:10.1007/s11606-006-0016-0

  6. Trenor CC 3rd, Chung RJ, Michelson AD, et al. Hormonal contraception and thrombotic risk: a multidisciplinary approachPediatrics. 2011;127(2):347–357. doi:10.1542/peds.2010-2221

  7. Haskins IN, Amdur R, Sarani B, Vaziri K. Congestive heart failure is a risk factor for venous thromboembolism in bariatric surgery. Surg Obes Relat Dis. 2015;11(5):1140-5.

  8. Merli G. Anticoagulants in the treatment of deep vein thrombosis. Am J Med. 2005;118 Suppl 8A:13S-20S.

  9. Yamada N, Hanzawa K, Ota S, et al. Occurrence of Deep Vein Thrombosis among Hospitalized Non-Surgical Japanese PatientsAnn Vasc Dis. 2015;8(3):203–209. doi:10.3400/avd.oa.14-00132

  10. Liu P, Liu J, Chen L, Xia K, Wu X. Intermittent pneumatic compression devices combined with anticoagulants for prevention of symptomatic deep vein thrombosis after total knee arthroplasty: a pilot studyTher Clin Risk Manag. 2017;13:179–183. Published 2017 Feb 14. doi:10.2147/TCRM.S129077

  11. Fahrni J, Husmann M, Gretener SB, Keo HH. Assessing the risk of recurrent venous thromboembolism--a practical approachVasc Health Risk Manag. 2015;11:451–459. Published 2015 Aug 17. doi:10.2147/VHRM.S83718

  12. Clarke MJ, Broderick C, Hopewell S, Juszczak E, Eisinga A. Compression stockings for preventing deep vein thrombosis in airline passengers. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016;9:CD004002.

Additional Reading

  • Aschwanden M, Jeanneret C, Koller MT, et al. Effect Of Prolonged Treatment With Compression Stockings To Prevent Post-Thrombotic Sequelae: A Randomized Controlled Trial. J Vasc Surg 2008; 47:1015. DOI: 10.1016/j.jvs.2008.01.008
  • Galanaud JP, Sevestre-Pietri MA, Bosson JL, et al. Comparative Study On Risk Factors And Early Outcome Of Symptomatic Distal Versus Proximal Deep Vein Thrombosis: Results From The Optimev Study. Thromb Haemost 2009; 102:493. DOI: 10.1160/TH09-01-0053
  • Lim CS, Davies AH. Graduated Compression Stockings CMAJ. 2014 Jul 8; 186(10): E391. DOI: 10.1503/cmaj.131281
  • Snow V, Qaseem A, Barry P, et al. Management Of Venous Thromboembolism: A Clinical Practice Guideline From The American College Of Physicians And The American Academy Of Family Physicians. Ann Intern Med 2007; 146:204. DOI:  10.7326/0003-4819-146-3-200702060-00149