Deep Vein Thrombosis Complications

A deep vein thrombosis (DVT) can cause serious health complications, including life-threatening pulmonary embolisms, which are blood clots that travel to the lungs. In addition, local circulation difficulties can develop around blood clots, resulting in skin disorders.

Deep Vein Thrombosis DVT ComplicationsPulmonary Embolism, DVT and the Lungs

Deep vein thromboses can develop in any of the large, deep veins of the body, but these blood clots usually develop in the legs. When a piece of the blood clot breaks loose from where it formed, it is called an embolism. When blood clots from a DVT embolize, they are carried through the veins back to the heart and into the lungs. Once in the lungs, a blood clot can cause life-threatening circulation problems because a clot in the lungs can block blood from being oxygenated. This condition is referred to as a pulmonary embolism.

Circulation problems caused by a pulmonary embolism can result in sudden death if the embolism blocks a large enough portion of the blood flow to the lungs. Fortunately, a deep vein thrombosis rarely results in fatal pulmonary embolism. Most cases of pulmonary embolism provide some warning: chest pain and difficulty breathing are common symptoms. Immediate medical attention is required to successfully treat a pulmonary embolism.

Deep Vein Thrombosis, Hypertension, and the Lungs

One deep vein thrombosis can embolize into many small blood clots that travel to the lungs. Although these tiny clots are too small to cause a life-threatening pulmonary embolism, they nevertheless cause circulation problems in the lungs. If enough small blood clots occur, they can slow or block the lungs’ circulation, leading to pulmonary hypertension, or high blood pressure of the lungs.

Blood Clots, Circulation Problems, and Skin Disorders

Even if blood clots don’t embolize, a deep vein thrombosis can result in a number of circulation problems. These circulation problems are usually localized, and develop where the blood clot forms. The damage caused by blood clot formation can result in high blood pressure in the surrounding area, a condition known as venous hypertension.

Localized circulation problems can lead to chronic venous insufficiency. This occurs if the veins cannot effectively return blood from the legs to the heart. Backed-up blood leaks out of the veins and “pools,” or collects, in the legs and the feet. Blood clots formed by a DVT can cause this type of circulation problem.

Chronic venous insufficiency often results in skin disorders, as blood byproducts and waste material build up in the skin. Skin disorders such as hyperpigmentation, dermatitis, and ulcers are the result. For more information and skin disorders go to the Skin Conditions web site.


American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. (2001). Deep vein thrombosis. Retrieved January 16, 2004, from