Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), Explained in Just 2 Minutes

It’s often linked to long flights, but you can get it at your desk, too.

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So often, deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is associated with long, international flights in crowded coach seats. While that’s one potential cause of DVT, it’s not the only one.

DVT is essentially a blood clot that forms in a major vein, typically in one of the legs. Sitting still—especially with bent or crossed legs—significantly raises the risk of DVT. That’s why it’s recommended to get up and walk the aisle periodically during a long flight.

Imagine slurping up a fruit smoothie through a small straw. As often happens, picture a piece of strawberry getting stuck toward the bottom of the straw. Despite you sucking on the straw, the berry blocks the rest of the smoothie from flowing upward.

That’s like what happens with DVT. The blood clot is like that stubborn strawberry, and it causes blood to pool below the blockage. This results in symptoms of DVT like swelling, redness, and pain. If that’s not dangerous enough, the blood clot could break off and travel to the lungs, causing a potentially fatal pulmonary embolism.

Sitting still for long periods of time puts anyone at risk, but your risk swells if you have:

  • Major surgery

  • Cancer

  • Lung disease

  • Heart disease

  • Or a family history of DVT.   

You can whittle down your risk by avoiding inactivity, since movement helps mobilize blood flow. If you’re stuck sitting for a while—like on a plane or at an all-day conference—make sure you get up and move frequently, at least every couple of hours. Wearing compression socks can also help work against gravity and prevent blood from pooling. Learn more about preventing DVT here.

Finally, if you have many risk factors, your doctor may prescribe a blood thinner. This can help prevent a pulmonary embolism or other complications of DVT.

If you’re worried about a clog in your veins, talk to a doctor to assess your risk and get tips for treatment.