What is DVT?

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot in a vein and usually forms in a leg vein. It can cause swelling and pain in the leg and may lead to pulmonary embolism (PE).

What is pulmonary embolism (PE)?

If a piece of the blood clot breaks off into the blood stream, and blocks one of the blood vessels in the lungs, it is called pulmonary embolism (PE). It can cause pain, breathlessness, and lack of oxygen in the blood.

Possible symptoms of DVT and PE

Symptoms of DVT and PE include:

  • unexplained pain or swelling in your legs
  • chest pain
  • breathlessness
  • a painful cough.

Factors that increase the risk of developing DVT

  • If you have to stay in bed for a long period or if you are recovering from surgery and not moving around very much.
  • If you or your family have a history of developing DVT or PE.
  • Conditions such as heart failure or cancer.
  • The use of some types of contraceptive pill. 

Anticoagulant medications

Warfarin is the most widely-used anticoagulant (or blood-thinning medication) to reduce the risk of having a stroke.

How to reduce the risk of developing DVT and PE before coming into hospital

Keep active 

Move around as much as possible in the weeks leading up to your surgery or stay in hospital.

Take care on journeys

Try to avoid long, uninterrupted journeys of over three hours in the month before your surgery or stay in hospital. If you need to travel on long journeys, try to move your legs regularly. 

If you are travelling by car, stop for a break every hour or two and walk around to stretch your legs.

Talk to your doctor if you are taking the contraceptive pill or hormone replacement therapy (HRT)

These medications may increase your risk of DVT and your doctor may advise you to stop taking them in the weeks leading up to your surgery or stay in hospital.

How to reduce the risk of developing DVT and PE while in hospital

Your clinical team will assess your risk of developing DVT and will discuss with you what can be done to reduce it.

Keep active

Start moving around as soon as possible after your surgery. In many cases this will be all that is needed to reduce your risk of DVT.

Special stockings 

Anti-embolism stockings have been shown to reduce the risk of DVT. You will be fitted with a pair if necessary. You may also hear them called TEDs (thrombo-embolic deterrents).


If we think that you are at a fairly high risk of DVT and PE, we may give you medication to stop your blood from clotting too quickly. This is called anticoagulant medication. 

We usually prescribe a medicine called enoxaparin, which is given by an injection under the skin once or twice a day, or sometimes we use liquid heparin given through a tube into a vein. 

If you are already taking anticoagulant medication such as warfarin, we will only prescribe these other drugs if you have to stop taking your warfarin for any reason.

How to reduce the risk of developing DVT and PE when you go home

Keep as active as you can. Some patients may need to continue taking anticoagulant medication at home. Your clinical team will tell you when you should stop taking the medication. Please ask if you have any questions.

If you suspect DVT or PE

It is very important that you get medical advice from your GP or hospital immediately. Anticoagulant medication is very effective at treating DVT or PE.

Useful documents

Preventing deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism (PE) (349KB)
This leaflet gives general information on reducing the risk of developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism (PE).