Skip Navigation

Fact Sheet: Deep Vein Thrombosis and Pulmonary Embolism

Who is at risk for Deep Vein Thrombosis and Pulmonary Embolism?

Almost anyone can have deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism. In most cases, deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism develops in a person who has an inherited blood clotting disorder or other risk factor, and who experiences a triggering event. The risk increases even more for someone who has more than one risk factor at the same time.

Factors that increase risk are:

  • Certain inherited blood disorders or factors that make your blood thicker or more likely to clot as well as a family history or previous deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism
  • Overweight and obesity
  • Cancer and its treatment
  • Pregnancy and childbirth
  • In women, use of hormones for birth control or menopause
  • Smoking
  • Age: those aged 50 or older are more likely to develop deep vein thrombosis
  • Ethnicity: African Americans and Whites are more likely than other groups to develop deep vein thrombosis 

How can Deep Vein Thrombosis and Pulmonary Embolism be prevented?

If you're at risk, you can help prevent blood clots from forming by:

  • Seeing your doctor for regular checkups
  • Taking all medicines your doctor prescribes
  • Getting out of bed and moving around as soon as possible after surgery or illness
  • Exercising your lower leg muscles during long trips
  • Exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, and not smoking 

If you have had deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism before, you can help prevent future blood clots by following the above steps and:

  • Taking all medicines, such as blood thinners, that your doctor prescribes to prevent or treat blood clots
  • Using graduated compression stockings (sometimes called support hose or medical compression stockings) as your doctor directs to help prevent blood from pooling and clotting in the lower leg
  • Following up with your doctor for tests and treatment
  • In some cases, blood-thinning medications and compression stockings might also be used in individuals considered at high risk but without a history of deep vein thrombosis

Contact your doctor at once if you have any signs or symptoms:

  • Swelling in one leg or along a vein in the leg
  • Pain or tenderness in one leg (might be felt only when standing or walking)
  • Warmth in one leg in the swollen or painful areas
  • Red or discolored skin in one leg
  • Unexplained shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Coughing up blood

 Tips for travelers:

Your risk of developing deep vein thrombosis while traveling is small. The risk increases if the travel time is longer than 4 hours, or if you have other risk factors for deep vein thrombosis.

During long trips, it may help to:

  • Frequently walk up and down the aisles of the bus, train, or airplane. If traveling by car, stop about every hour and walk around
  • Move your legs and flex and stretch your feet often while you’re sitting by:
    • Raising and lowering your heels while keeping your toes on the floor
    • Raising and lowering your toes while keeping your heels on the floor
    • Tightening and releasing your leg muscles
  • Wear loose and comfortable clothing
  • Drink plenty of fluids, especially water, and avoid alcohol and caffeine
  • If you're at high risk for deep vein thrombosis, your doctor may also recommend wearing compression stockings during travel or taking a blood-thinning medicine before traveling

Back to Call to Action