What is deep vein thrombosis?

People with spinal cord injury (SCI) are at particular risk for deep vein thrombosis (DVT) during their acute hospital stay.

DVT is a blood clot that forms in a vein deep in the body, most often in the lower leg or thigh.

This complication can be life-threatening if the clot breaks loose from the leg vein and finds its way to the lung, causing a pulmonary embolism.

Doctors use anticoagulants, commonly called blood thinners, to prevent blood clots. In SCI, anticoagulants are generally given with the first 72-hours after injury to all patients. The thinners are usually given for about eight weeks.

The most common type of blood thinner used in SCI is a low molecular weight heparin such as enoxaparin or dalteparin. These medications slow the time it takes for blood to clot and also prevent growth of a clot. Important to note, blood thinners do not remove existing clots; that sometimes involves surgery.

Some SCI centers use a type of blood filter called an inferior vena cava (IVC) filter in people at high risk for thromboembolism – including those with high cervical injuries or long bone fractures. The appropriateness of IVC filter use as a preventative has not been fully worked out. In fact, a recent study showed that placement of an IVC filter may actually increase risk of DVT.

The risk for DVT is highest in the acute phase of SCI but risks of blood clots can remain across the SCI population. Routine use of graduated compression stockings is a common practice in people with paralysis.

Download a life-saving DVT wallet card

One of the folds is written specifically for the physician. In the event of a DVT crisis, you can pull the "Attention Physician" flap to the front. This allows first responders to see your personal information on one side, and directions to treat DVT on the other.

The DVT card applies to both adults and children. Copies of the DVT card are available online for download, or you can call the PRC directly at 800-539-7309 and ask to speak to an information specialist.

Watch our video on DVT

Resources on DVT

For more information on understanding DVT and additional resources from trusted Reeve Foundation sources, please download our fact sheet on deep vein thrombosis and check out our repository of fact sheets on hundreds of topics ranging from aging with a spinal cord injury to secondary complications of paralysis.

The information contained in the wallet card and web page is presented for the purpose of informing you about paralysis and its effects. Nothing contained herein is to be construed or intended as a medical diagnosis or treatment. Contact your physician or other qualified healthcare provider should you have questions on your health, treatment, or diagnosis.

Sources: National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, Paralysis Resource Guide

This project was supported, in part by grant number 90PR3002, from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects under government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official Administration for Community Living policy.