Prevention of Deep Vein Thrombosis

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DVT prevention is important for people who are at risk. Anybody can develop 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 developing a DVT and may need to take specific measures to prevent it from occurring.

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General Measures for Everyone

There are several lifestyle measures people 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, and it is 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 can reduce your odds of having a DVT.
  • Don’t smoke: Smoking can wreck your health in many ways. Smoking also greatly increases your risk of developing DVT. If you smoke, here’s another reason to quit.
  • Be mindful of travel: Consider wearing compression stockings for trips of four hours or longer.

Special Measures

Some people have an especially elevated risk for DVT. In addition to preventative lifestyle measures, your doctor might recommend special precautions to lower your 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.

Pregnancy, Birth Control Pills, and Hormone Replacement Therapy

Females 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 situations.

In addition to making appropriate lifestyle adjustments, people who have these risks 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 lower extremity edema. Getting exercise, controlling your weight, and not smoking is especially important. Some people who have heart failure are prescribed anticoagulant medication to help prevent blood clots.

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. Preventive measures can be helpful in this circumstance. Often, in addition, anticoagulant medication can help prevent further abnormal clotting.

Treatment guidelines released by the American Society of Hematology in 2020 recommend that patients with recurring DVT take blood thinners indefinitely rather than stopping anticoagulation after primary treatment. Your doctor will evaluate the risks and benefits for you on a continuing basis.

If you have a history of DVT, you should be alert to any sign that the DVT may be returning, and seek immediate medical help as soon as you begin to notice signs of recurrence.

Compression Stockings

The use of medical-grade (that is, prescription) graduated compression stockings to prevent DVT is surprisingly controversial. They once were recommended to prevent a recurrent DVT for people who had a DVT previously, but guidelines updated in 2016 reversed that advice. However, a large review study later found that compression stockings do help prevent DVT after surgery.

They also may be recommended in some settings to help relieve pain after a DVT. Ask your doctor if compression stockings might be beneficial for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can DVT be prevented? 

There are steps you can take to reduce your risk of DVT, but it is unclear if it can be prevented altogether. 

How do you prevent DVT naturally? 

You can reduce your risk of DVT by getting regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding smoking, and wearing compression stockings on when you will be still for a long time (such as a flight or long care ride). 

How do hospitals prevent DVT in patients?

In the hospital, intermittent pneumatic compression devices are used to help prevent DVT. The compression devices are put around the calves and fill with air to squeeze legs and aid circulation. Sometimes medication is given, either orally (by mouth) or injection, to prevent DVTs for some people.

Deep Vein Thrombosis Doctor Discussion Guide

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

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Additional Reading
  • Lim CS, Davies AH. Graduated Compression Stockings. CMAJ. 2014;186(10):E391. doi: 10.1503/cmaj.131281