Boots WebMD Partners in Health
Return To Boots

Treatment for deep vein thrombosis (DVT)

Deep vein thrombosis, or DVT is a blood clot in a vein, which can be life-threatening and require urgent treatment.

Treatment for DVT ranges from keeping legs raised and wearing special compression stockings, to taking anticoagulant (‘blood thinning’) medication to stop the clot causing damage to the body.

Goals of treatment for a DVT

There is more than one goal of treatment for a DVT. The goals include:

  • Preventing a clot from growing.
  • Preventing a clot from breaking off and travelling to a lung or other organ.
  • Avoiding long-lasting complications, such as leg pain and swelling.
  • Preventing blood clots from recurring.

Blood thinners for a DVT

Blood thinners, medically called anticoagulants, are the most common type of treatment for a DVT. The two main types of anticoagulants are heparin and warfarin. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) also now recommends two newer anticoagulants called rivaroxaban and apixaban as possible treatments for DVT.

Anticoagulants can keep a clot from growing or breaking off and prevent new clots from forming. They cannot thin blood - despite their name - or dissolve an existing clot

Heparin: Traditionally, people have received heparin intravenously in the hospital for about five to seven days. However, low-molecular-weight heparin is a newer DVT treatment given as an injection under the skin. It's effective within hours, reducing complications and hospitalisations. And because it is more consistent and predictable, it doesn't require regular blood tests.

Warfarin: As a DVT treatment, you take warfarin as a tablet, once a day. Treatment may continue for three to six months. While on warfarin, you will need regular blood tests to ensure you have the correct dosage - too little increases your clot risk, too much increases your risk of bleeding. Warfarin can also interact with other medicines, vitamins or certain foods rich in vitamin K (like dark leafy greens) - making regular monitoring even more important.

At the start of your treatment, you are likely to be given heparin and warfarin together as heparin injections act faster than warfarin, which will take a few days to be effective.

If you're pregnant, your GP may prescribe an alternative treatment to warfarin, as it can cause birth defects. If you can't take warfarin, your GP may recommend that you take heparin injections for the full length of treatment.

DVT and catheter-directed thrombolysis

If you have a DVT, your body will dissolve a blood clot over time, but damage can occur inside your vein in the meantime. For this reason, your doctor may recommend a clot-busting drug called a thrombolytic agent. This is not a routine treatment for a DVT but may be considered in certain circumstances such as:

  • For larger clots
  • If you're at high risk or have a pulmonary embolism (PE)
  • If you have DVT in an arm, instead of a leg.

WebMD Medical Reference

Stay informed

Sign up for BootsWebMD's free newsletters.
Sign Up Now!

Popular slideshows & tools on BootsWebMD

How to help headache pain
man in mirror
How smoking affects your looks & life
man holding sore neck
16 tips when you have a lot of weight to lose
man holding sore neck
Could you have a hormone imbalance?
woman looking at pregnancy test
Is your body ready for pregnancy?
man holding sore neck
8 signs you're headed for menopause
couple makigh salad
Nutrition for over 50s
bain illustration
Best foods for your brain
adult man contemplating
When illness makes it hard to eat
Allergy myths and facts
egg in cup
Surprising things that can harm your liver