Symptoms of Deep Vein Thrombosis

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A deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot in a vein deep below the surface of the skin, usually in the legs or thighs. That sounds serious enough to give way to blatant warning signs, and pain and swelling are often present. That said, DVT can occur without producing any such red flags at all. Furthermore, signs and symptoms may only arise once DVT has progressed and the clot has moved to the lungs, causing pulmonary embolism (PE).

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Frequent Symptoms 

There are some signs and symptoms of DVT that are important to be aware of, especially if you have a risk factor, such as pregnancy, obesity, or you tend to sit for long periods of time. However, these are rather generic and can often be confused with other health conditions.

  • Pain or tenderness in the leg (perhaps only while walking or standing)
  • Swelling in the affected area
  • Redness or discoloration of the skin on the leg
  • Chest pain, especially when taking a deep breath
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Sudden onset cough
  • Coughing up blood
  • Fainting

Unfortunately, many people who have a DVT might not experience symptoms until the clot has moved to the lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism (PE). Signs and symptoms of this life-threatening condition include:

  • Unexplained shortness of breath
  • Rapid breathing and fast heart rate (pulse)
  • Chest pain
  • Coughing up blood
  • Sweating
  • Lightheadedness
  • Pain when taking a deep breath

Complications

Pulmonary embolism is one of the biggest complications of DVT. If the clot is large and enters your lungs, it can completely stop blood flow and cause sudden death. And if it's small, it can reduce blood flow and cause damage to lung tissue.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one third of people who develop DVT will have long-term complications caused by the damage from the clot. That damage to the vein is called post-thrombotic syndrome (PTS). Swelling, pain, and discoloration are common symptoms of PTS, but in severe cases, it can also cause ulcers and scaling.

Sometimes, DVT and PE can become chronic. The CDC reports that about 30 percent of people who have had DVT or PE are at risk of having another occurrence. 

If you've been diagnosed with a DVT or PE, you'll most likely be prescribed blood thinners, also known as anti-coagulants. These medications help prevent future occurrences. But because these drugs thin your blood to prevent clots, they can cause some bleeding issues.

When to See a Doctor

People with DVT report swelling, throbbing pain, redness, and tenderness in the affected area, but about half of the people with DVT don't have any symptoms at all. Some people with DVT also notice enlargement of the veins in one leg or arm, or increased warmth in the area that's swollen. You may also have pain when standing or walking. Many describe the pain as a cramp, like a "Charley horse."

You can try elevating your leg, but if the symptoms persist or get worse, see your doctor.

Once the DVT breaks loose and causes PE, however, people can experience shortness of breath (even just walking from one room to another), chest pain, coughing up blood, feeling faint, excessive sweating, fever, pale/discolored skin, and irregular heartbeat. It's possible for someone with a PE to feel like he or she is having a heart attack. In this case, emergency medical attention is necessary.

Causes and Risk Factors of Deep Vein Thrombosis
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