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Learning About How to Prevent a Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) in the Hospital

Location of deep veins in the legs, with detail of blood clot in vein

What is a deep vein thrombosis (DVT)?

A deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot (thrombus) in a deep vein, usually in the legs. A DVT can be dangerous because it can break loose and travel through the bloodstream to the lungs. There it can block blood flow in the lungs (pulmonary embolism). This can be life-threatening.

What increases your risk?

As a patient in the hospital, you are at higher risk for having a DVT. This may be due to:

Slowed blood flow.

Blood clots can form when your blood flows slowly or pools in your leg. This can happen when you have to stay in a hospital bed.

Injury to a blood vessel.

Blood is more likely to clot in veins soon after they are injured. Injuries include recent surgery that involves the legs, hips, belly, or brain. Clotting may also happen if you have a central venous catheter (CVC) to give you medicines, fluids, or nutrients. Clotting occurs at or near the CVC site.

Blood that doesn't clot normally.

Some people have blood that clots too easily or too quickly. This can happen if you have cancer or other health conditions or illnesses that makes your blood more likely to clot.

How is it prevented?

Preventing a DVT in the hospital may include medicines, compression, and movement.

Blood thinner medicines.

Medicines called blood thinners help reduce the risk of blood clots. These medicines don't actually thin the blood. They work by slowing the time it takes for clots to form.

You may be given blood thinners in the form of pills or a shot.


Compressing, or squeezing, your legs helps keeps your blood moving so it doesn't pool and form clots. This can be done with:

  • A compression device that has air bags that inflate and deflate at certain times. This forces blood to flow out of your lower leg toward your heart. The device is sometimes called an intermittent or sequential compression device.
  • Compression stockings that are tight at the feet with a looser fit on the legs.

Your doctor may urge you to get up and walk for short periods, if you can. Working your leg muscles as you stand and walk helps move blood through your veins.

When should you call for help?

While you are in the hospital, be sure to let your care team know if you have any new problems or if your symptoms get worse. For example:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have chest pain, are short of breath, or cough up blood.
  • You are dizzy or light-headed, or you feel like you may faint.
  • You have signs of a blood clot in your leg (called a deep vein thrombosis), such as:
    • Pain in your calf, back of the knee, thigh, or groin.
    • Redness and swelling in your leg.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

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