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Procedures for Deep Vein Thrombosis

A deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot in a large vein deep inside a leg, arm, or other parts of the body. The clot can break loose and travel to the lungs, forming a pulmonary embolism (PE). In the lungs, the clot can cut off the flow of blood. This is a medical emergency and may cause death.

Health care providers use the term venous thromboembolism (VTE) to describe the two conditions, DVT and PE. They use the term VTE because the two conditions are very closely related. And, because their prevention and treatment are closely related.

You have been diagnosed with a deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Depending on your health, and the size and location of the blood clot, your doctor may recommend you have one or more procedures. These may be needed to dissolve a large clot, widen the blood flow area through a vein, or to stop an embolus from traveling to the lungs.  These procedures are reserved for specific, higher risk situations. Your doctor can give you more information and answer any questions you may have.

image of a catheter releasing medication in a blood clot


image of a catheter with a balloon inside of  a vein


an inferior vena cava filter trapping an embolus in a vein


This procedure is used to dissolve a large clot. A catheter (thin tube) is inserted into the vein. X-rays are taken of the vein and the clot. Then, clot-dissolving medication is delivered to the clot through the catheter. In some cases, a mechanical device is also used to break up the clot. This procedure is not recommended for everyone with a DVT. If you are a candidate, your doctor will review the risks and benefits with you. In appropriate cases, thrombolysis is a very effective treatment for blood clots. However, it does carry the risk for serious bleeding complications.


This procedure may be used to widen the affected vein and improve blood flow after the blood clot has been dissolved. Narrowing (stenosis) of the vein can block blood flow and make it more likely for a blood clot to form. A catheter with a balloon on the end is inserted into the affected vein. X-rays are used to position the catheter. Once the catheter is in place, the balloon is inflated to widen your vein. In some cases, a wire mesh device, called a stent, may also be placed in your vein to help keep it open. This procedure may be recommended in certain cases. Your doctor can discuss whether or not this procedure would be beneficial for you.

Inferior vena cava filter

An inferior vena cava (IVC) filter is a small device used to trap an embolus in your lower body and prevent it from traveling to your lungs. The filter is delivered by a catheter and placed in your IVC, your body’s largest vein. An IVC filter is typically recommended for people who cannot take blood thinners to treat a DVT, or for people who have recurrent DVT despite taking blood thinners. There may be other reasons an IVC filter is recommended, which your doctor will discuss with you in detail.

Online Medical Reviewer: Holloway, Beth, RN, M.Ed.
Online Medical Reviewer: Petersen, Sheralee, MPAS, PA-C
Last Review Date: 3/31/2015
© 2000-2015 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.