Resources > Heart Conditions > Venous Thromboembolism (VTE)

Venous Thromboembolism (VTE)

Venous thromboembolism is a blood clot that begins in a vein. There are two types: deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a clot in a deep vein, typically in the leg, but sometimes in the arm or other veins, and pulmonary embolism (PE), which occurs when a DVT clot separates from a vein wall, travels to the lungs, and blocks some or all of the blood supply.

CausesVTEs can develop if your blood flow changes or slows down somewhere in your body. This can be caused by both health conditions and medical treatments, in addition to long-haul flights that force your legs to remain in the same position for extended periods of time.

  • Medical treatments – the likelihood of a VTE goes up if you’ve been in the hospital for a while, have surgery (particularly on the knees or hips), or go through chemotherapy
  • Health conditions – your VTE risk is higher if you have cancer, lupus, or other immune problems, health conditions that make your blood thicker, or are obese

SymptomsThe symptoms of VTE differ from person to person. Sometimes symptoms do not present until serious complications occur.

Deep vein thrombosis may cause the following symptoms around the area of the blood clot:

  • Swelling
  • Pain or tenderness
  • Increased warmth, cramps, or aching in the area that is swollen or painful, usually the calf or thigh
  • Red or discolored skin

Signs and symptoms of pulmonary embolism include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain with deep breathing
  • Rapid breathing
  • Increased heart rate

Diagnosis Your doctor will diagnose deep vein thrombosis with or without pulmonary embolism based on your medical history, a physical exam, and various imaging or blood test results.

TreatmentIf you have a VTE, you require immediate treatment. Your doctor may talk to you about treatments including:

  • Blood thinners
  • Clot-busting drugs
  • Surgery

Not everyone diagnosed with VTE requires treatment. In some cases, your doctor will detect a clot and decide to monitor it instead of treating it right away.