What is venous thromboembolism (VTE)?

The related blood clot problems—deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism (PE)—are known as ‘venous thromboembolism’ (VTE for short) [1] and VTE is a significant cause of death in Australian and New Zealand hospitals [2,4].

DVT refers to a blood clot that forms in one of the major deep veins of the lower legs or thighs, or sometimes in the pelvis [1]. A clot blocks blood circulation through these veins, which carry blood from the lower body back to the heart. The blockage can be painful and cause swelling and redness in the affected leg [1]. Blood clots can also form in veins close to the surface of the skin and cause thrombophlebitis [3].

A complication of DVT that can result in serious illness occurs when a clot breaks loose, or ‘embolises’, and travels through the bloodstream, causing blockage of blood vessels (pulmonary arteries) in the lung, known as PE [1,3]. If this happens, it may cause difficulty in breathing, chest pain, and blood-stained phlegm [1,3].