Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a potentially dangerous blood clot that forms deep in the veins of the legs, arms or pelvis. DVTs are very common and respond well to treatment when caught early. Without treatment, part of the clot can break off and travel to the lung, where it may block blood flow (called pulmonary embolism) and can cause death.
“Despite being predominately young and healthy, athletes may be at increased risk for DVTs,” says John Moriarty, MD, FSIR, director of PE Response Team and of the IVC Filter Clinic, UCLA Interventional Radiology.
Some reasons athletes are at risk for blood clots include:
As with the general public, some athletes are more vulnerable to DVTs because they have:
DVTs can form in the legs, arms or pelvis. Athletes of every sport and every age may experience a blood clot. Being in tune with their bodies can help athletes spot DVTs when they are most treatable. Symptoms include:
When DVTs lead to a pulmonary embolism, the symptoms become more severe:
“Athletes should make an appointment with their primary care provider if the symptoms are not severe,” says Dr. Moriarty. “If there is a lot of pain or swelling, or there are symptoms of a pulmonary embolism, they should head to the emergency department for immediate care.”
Providers diagnose blood clots using a painless ultrasound test. If the provider identifies a DVT, they recommend ABCD measures:
Specialists may use medical devices to:
The vast majority of people who develop a DVT will need three to six months of ABCD measures.
“If someone has a genetic abnormality or they repeatedly experience blood clots, they may need more aggressive treatments,” says Dr. Moriarty. “In those cases, blood thinners and compression measures may be lifelong.”
Dr. Moriarty says there have been new developments and improvements in DVT treatments, so results are better than ever. Most athletes can return to rigorous activity following treatment for blood clots.