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.

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.

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.

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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