Identifying Signs of a Blood Clot in the Arm

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A blood clot in the arm could be a severe condition that leads to life-threatening complications. You should seek immediate medical care if you have one. Most blood clots are treatable, and complications can be avoided if caught early.

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) occurs when a blood clot forms in one or more of the deep veins in the body. DVT often occurs in your leg, but it is possible to experience a blood clot in the arm. Factors like trauma, surgery, and central venous catheter placement can increase your risk of a blood clot in the arm. 

This article covers the signs and symptoms of a blood clot in the arm, risk factors, treatment, and more. 

A healthcare provider checks a person's arm in an emergency room

sturti / Getty Images

How a Blood Clot in the Arm May Feel and Look 

A blood clot will form to stop the bleeding when you get a cut. But sometimes, the blood in the veins forms a clot for no reason, which can be harmful. 

With DVT, the clot forms in a vein deep in the body. DVT can occur in the leg or the arm. It is sometimes called DVT of the upper extremities (DVT-UE) when it affects the arm. Of cases of DVT, 11% to 14% are DVT-UE. Most blood clots of the arm occur in the upper arm.

Two other types of blood clots are superficial thrombophlebitis and emboli (or, embolus for one clot). Superficial thrombophlebitis occurs in a vein just below the skin, while emboli are clots that move through the bloodstream to other body parts. An embolus can lead to a pulmonary embolism (PE). 

It is possible to have DVT and not experience symptoms. Around 33% to 60% of people with DVT in an arm do not experience symptoms, especially early on. For most people, symptoms will come on gradually. 

Symptoms of DVT in the arm might include:

  • Arm pain or cramping
  • Swelling and tenderness in the affected area 
  • Skin discoloration (red, purple, or blue) due to blood flow restriction
  • Enlarged veins
  • Warmth in the affected area
  • Neck or shoulder pain

Additional early symptoms might include weakness or paresthesia (numbness, tingling, burning, etc.) in the affected arm and elevated body temperature. But those two symptoms are rare. 

Early signs will intensify, especially pain, swelling, and cramping. If DVT breaks loose and travels to the lungs or restricts blood flow, you might experience PE. PE can be life-threatening.

Signs of PE include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid breathing
  • Chest pain under the rib page
  • A fast heart rate
  • Light-headedness, dizziness, or passing out

You should seek immediate medical attention if you believe you have a blood clot in your arm or another body area. 

Who Gets Blood Clots in Their Arm?

A blood clot in the arm is either primary or secondary. Primary DVT-UE is rare and might occur because of repeated or strenuous activity using the arm, such as weight lifting or rowing. Most clots resulting from strenuous activity occur in the dominant arm. 

Secondary DVT accounts for 80% of all DVT cases in the arm. It occurs because of a disruption in the vein leading to a clot.

Such disruptions include:

DVT to PE Risk

The highest risk for a DVT to break off and become a PE is in the first few days. Risk factors that might increase your risk for a DVT to produce a PE include:

  • Receiving medicine or fluids with a catheter 
  • Active cancer 
  • Surgery 
  • Hospitalizations in which you are confined to a bed
  • Estrogen therapy/contraception
  • Trauma with a fracture
  • Being pregnant or having given birth recently 
  • Having at least one previous episode of venous thromboembolism (DVT to PE) or a history of blood clots

Emergency Diagnosis of Blood Clot in the Arm

If you notice signs of DVT, you should seek immediate medical attention by heading to your local emergency room. A PE can occur quickly and within several days after the blood clot forms. Getting prompt medical attention is the best way to prevent this complication.

You will be asked about symptoms at the emergency room, and your arm will be examined. If a blood clot is suspected, imaging will be requested. 

The most common diagnostic test for DVT is a duplex ultrasound. This test uses sound waves and Doppler technology to visualize blood vessels and blood flow. If a PE is suspected, a healthcare provider might request other imaging, such as a chest X-ray or a computed tomography (CT) scan

Once a diagnosis of DVT is made and a treatment plan is set in the emergency room (ER), you can complete treatment at home. You will also need to follow up with your primary healthcare provider. But if you are diagnosed with PE, you will likely be admitted to the hospital for treatment and monitoring. 

Treatment for DVT Symptoms in Arm

The primary goals for treating DVT in the arm are to stop the blood clot from increasing in size, relieve symptoms, and prevent the clot from traveling to the lungs or another body area.

Treatment options for DVT in the arm include: 

  • Anticoagulants: These medicines (commonly called blood thinners) are used for several months to treat DVT or PE. These medications reduce the blood's ability to clot and prevent the clot from getting bigger while the body absorbs it.
  • Thrombolytics: These drugs are also called clot busters and work to dissolve clots. They are reserved for severe cases because they have a higher risk of bleeding.
  • Inferior vena cava filter: If blood thinners and clot-busting medicines do not help you, your healthcare provider might recommend a filter inserted in the inferior vena cava (the large vein that brings blood back to the heart) to trap emboli before they reach the lungs.
  • Thrombectomy/embolectomy: Some people might need surgery to remove the clot. A thrombectomy involves the removal of a blood clot from a DVT. An embolectomy removes a blockage from the lung caused by PE.

Additional treatments for a blood clot in the arm are limb elevation and a compression arm sleeve. Elevating the affected arm can help reduce swelling and pain. A compression arm sleeve can help improve blood flow from the arm to the heart.

Recovering From a Blood Clot in the Arm 

The body will naturally absorb the clot over weeks and months. As the clot dissolves, symptoms of DVT or PE will improve and eventually disappear. 

You should start to see symptom improvement within a few days of using an anticoagulant or thrombolytic. Most people recover fully from a DVT or PE within a few weeks or months without any serious complications or long-term effects. 

While rare, it is possible to experience long-term pain and swelling in the affected arm. About half of the people with DVT will have some chronic discomfort, and around 15% will experience post-thrombotic syndrome. This syndrome results from damage done when the clot forms and scarring from the obstruction. It causes long-term pain and swelling. 

Around 2% to 4% of people will experience lung damage, known as chronic thromboembolic pulmonary hypertension. This complication causes shortness of breath and decreased exercise ability and can lead to heart failure if untreated.

While complications and long-term effects are rare, completing your treatment and seeing your healthcare provider for follow-up visits is essential. Contact your healthcare provider if you still have pain and symptoms after you have completed treatment or if treatment does not appear to be helping. 


Deep vein thrombosis occurs when there is a blood clot in one or more of the deep veins in the body. While DVT often develops in the leg, it is also possible to experience DVT in one of your arms. Causes of a DVT in the arm might include trauma, surgery, or central venous catheter use.

If you have signs of DVT, head to your nearest emergency room. A pulmonary embolism, a complication of DVT, can occur quickly and within a few days. Getting immediate medical attention can prevent PE. 

Treatments for DVT include blood thinners and clot-busting drugs. An inferior vena cava filter or surgery might be required when medicines are not enough to clear a blood clot. 

Recovery from DVT should take many weeks or months, but complications are rare. You should contact your healthcare provider if treatments do not appear to be helping or if symptoms worsen. 

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Lana Barhum
Lana Barhum has been a freelance medical writer since 2009. She shares advice on living well with chronic disease.