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In the days and weeks after surgery you have the highest chance of developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT). This condition occurs when a blood clot forms in a deep vein, often in the leg. If the clot breaks loose and travels to a lung, severe health problems and even death can result. This sheet describes ways that DVT can be prevented after surgery. Follow your health care providers’ instructions so that you will have a safe recovery.
Your doctor will prescribe one or more of the following:
Anticoagulant. This is medication that prevents blood clots. It is given to you before and right after surgery by injection or through an IV. Or you take the medication by mouth. The most common anticoagulants are aspirin, warfarin (also called Coumadin) and heparin.
Compression stockings. These are elastic stockings that fit tightly around the ankle, gradually reducing in pressure as they go up the leg. This helps keep blood flowing toward the heart, so that it is less likely to pool in the legs and cause a blood clot. When they’re first put on, the stockings may be uncomfortable. But after a while you should become used to them. However, if the stockings cause pain, let the nurse know right away.
Exercises. Simple exercises while in bed or sitting in a chair can help prevent DVT. Move your feet in a circle or up and down 10 times an hour to improve circulation.
Ambulation (getting out of bed and walking). After surgery as soon as you’re able, you’ll be helped out of bed by your nurse. Moving around improves circulation and helps prevent blood clots.
Sequential compression devices (also called intermittent pneumatic compression devices). Special sleeves are wrapped around the legs or around the feet. Air tubes connect the sleeves to an electric pump. The pump inflates and deflates the sleeves. As the sleeves inflate, they gently squeeze the muscles of the legs or feet. As they deflate, the muscles relax. This action promotes blood circulation and prevents blood clots.
Deep vein thrombosis can still occur even after you go home. To continue preventing DVT, follow any specific instructions your health care provider gave you and the guidelines below.
Anticoagulant. Take this medication as directed. Be sure you know what foods and other medications can interact with your anticoagulant. Follow any measures to avoid dangerous interactions. Also, ask your health care provider what to do if you forget to take a dose.
Compression stockings. Continue to wear these, if instructed. Your health care provider will tell you how often to wear and remove the stockings. Follow these instructions closely. Each time you remove the stockings, check your legs and feet for red spots or sores. If you see anything suspicious, call your health care provider right away.
Returning to activity. The key to preventing DVT after surgery is to be active as much as you can. This improves circulation so that blood flow doesn’t slow down enough to form a clot. Day by day, increase the amount of activity you do around your home. When resting in bed or sitting in a chair, keep doing the foot exercises you did in the hospital.
Sequential compression device. Your doctor may have you use this at home for a time. If so, follow the instructions carefully on how often and for how long each time to use the device.
Call 911 right away if you have any of the following:
Sudden chest pain
Shortness of breath
Coughing up blood
Pain, swelling, redness, or warmth in the calf or thigh
Otherwise, call your doctor right away if you have any of the following:
Signs of problems with your anticoagulant, such as:
Cough with blood or bloody sputum
Heavy or uncontrolled bleeding
Bleeding in the urine, stool, or vomit
Black or tarry stools