Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) and Pulmonary Embolism (PE)
Prevention and Treatment
What are DVT and PE?
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot
that forms inside the deep veins of the body,
most often in the legs. DVTs alone are not
life threatening. If the clot breaks free and
moves to the lungs, it can stick in blood
vessels there. This is called a pulmonary
embolism (PE). A PE is dangerous and can
be life-threatening. The chance of getting a
PE is fairly low.
ξ Being hospitalized
ξ Older age
ξ Broken bone
ξ Heart problems
ξ Being overweight
ξ Birth control pills
ξ Hormone replacement therapy
ξ Blood clotting problems
ξ Little activity
If you are at risk for a DVT or PE, there are
ways to try to prevent it.
Medicine-Injections: Most patients in the
hospital who are at risk of getting a clot are
prescribed a blood thinning medicine. Often,
the best medicine to prevent a clot while in
the hospital is an injection that goes in your
belly. Depending on your risk and the
medicine your doctor thinks is best for you,
you could get this medicine up to three times
per day. The most common injections we
give are heparin or lovenox/enoxaparin.
You need to take this medicine every time
your nurse brings it to you as it works best
when given as ordered by your doctor. It is
normal for these injections to hurt or burn
and to leave small bruises where they were
given. This medicine is often stopped when
your risk of blood clot goes down, such as
when you leave the hospital or return to your
normal activity level.
Medicine-Pill: Some patients may need to
go on a blood thinning medicine longer then
their hospital stay. In this case, your doctor
may prescribe a blood thinning pill that you
take by mouth. There are multiple drugs
that can be used to help thin your blood.
You and your doctor will discuss which
medicine is right for you and the
information you need to know to keep safe
while taking these drugs.
Leg Pumps/SCDs: These sleeves go over
your legs or feet and fill up with air,
squeezing the leg to help increase blood
flow and may decrease your chance of
getting a blood clot.
These should be worn at all times when you
are in bed. If we use a ceiling lift to help get
you up to the chair, we may suggest that you
wear them while you are up in your chair as
Walking/leg exercises: If you are able, you
may also be asked to go for walks. You may
also be asked to do exercises that help
improve the blood flow in your legs while in
your bed or chair.
Compression Socks: These tight elastic
stockings are often used for leg swelling or
edema. Sometimes your doctor may want
you to wear them to help increase blood
flow in your legs and they may decrease
your chance of getting a blood clot. If you
wear these you need to take them off each
day to wash the skin below and to make sure
no sores develop.
When you go home after surgery or being in
the hospital you are still at risk for a blood
clot. You need to know the signs and
symptoms written below. Call your doctor if
you have any of these signs or symptoms. If
you are having chest pain or breathing
problems, go to your local ER. Getting out
of bed to a chair and walking are ways you
can help prevent a blood clot once you go
Signs and Symptoms of DVT
ξ Pain in arm or leg
ξ Swelling or redness in arm or leg
ξ Warm spot in arm or leg
Signs and Symptoms of PE
ξ Chest pain, shortness of breath
ξ Rapid heartbeat or breathing
ξ Low grade fever
ξ Cough, with or without blood
How is a DVT Diagnosed?
ξ The most common test to find out if
you have a DVT is the Doppler scan
or Doppler ultrasound.
How is a PE Diagnosed?
ξ The most common test to find out if
you have a PE is a CT scan. A chest
x-ray or magnetic resonance imaging
(MRI) may also be used.
Most DVTs and PEs are treated with blood
thinning medicines. These are the same
medicines that can be used to prevent DVT
and PE from forming. They are used in
higher doses or for longer periods of time
when used to treat a DVT or PE. Blood
thinners will help prevent a clot from getting
bigger and new clots from forming. Blood
thinners can be given by mouth, by injection
into the skin or into the vein (IV).
Compression socks are often used to help
increase blood flow while the clot dissolves.
You should keep the arm or leg that has a
blood clot raised above the level of your
heart. This helps to decrease swelling as the
clot shrinks. Some patients who have a very
high risk for blood clots have a filter placed
in a large blood vessel. This prevents a
DVT in the leg from moving up to the lung.
It would be placed by a surgeon in the
Some patients have good results from blood
thinners at home, even if they do not have a
blood clot. These blood thinners are often
used for about 2-4 weeks after hospital
discharge. If you will be using a blood
thinner that is injected into the skin, be sure
you know how to give this medicine.
If you have a blood clot, follow instructions
with care. If you need to have a blood test,
be sure to know when to have it drawn and
who will follow up on the result. Most
patients who have a blood clot will need to
be on a blood thinner for at least 3 months.
Some patients may be told to stay on blood
Call your doctor if:
ξ You have unusual bruising or
ξ You have chest pain
ξ You have shortness of breath
ξ You cough up or vomit blood
ξ You have black stools that look like
ξ You have new or increased pain or
swelling in your leg or arm
Your health care team may have given you this information as part of your care. If so, please use it and call if you
have any questions. If this information was not given to you as part of your care, please check with your doctor. This
is not medical advice. This is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Because each
person’s health needs are different, you should talk with your doctor or others on your health care team when using
this information. If you have an emergency, please call 911. Copyright ©10/2016 University of Wisconsin Hospitals
and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#7522