Symptoms of Deep Vein Thrombosis

In This Article

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a condition in which a blood clot forms 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. Symptoms can include pain and swelling, but DVT can also occur with no red flags at all. In some cases, signs and symptoms only arise once DVT has progressed and the clot has moved to the lungs, causing pulmonary embolism (PE).

deep vein thrombosis
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Frequent Symptoms 

Symptoms can often be confused with other health conditions, but there are some signs 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:

  • 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

Unfortunately, people who have DVT may not experience symptoms until the clot has progressed to 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
  • Sudden onset cough
  • Fainting

Complications

Pulmonary embolism (PE) 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. Small clots are still problematic, as they reduce blood flow and can cause damage to lung tissue.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between one-third and one-half 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. 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.

Treatment guidelines released by the American Society of Hematology in 2020 recommend patients with chronic DVT or PE take blood thinners indefinitely rather than stopping anticoagulation after primary treatment. Your doctor will evaluate the risks and benefits for you on a continuing basis.

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 for treatment.

Deep Vein Thrombosis Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Doctor Discussion Guide Man

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.

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Article Sources
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  1. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. OrthoInfo. Deep Vein Thrombosis. Last reviewed June 2015.

  2. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What is Venous Thromboembolism? Last reviewed February 7. 2020.

  3. Ortel TL, Neumann I, Ageno W, et al. American Society of Hematology 2020 guidelines for management of venous thromboembolism: treatment of deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism. Blood Adv. 2020 Oct 13;4(19):4693-4738. doi: 10.1182/bloodadvances.2020001830.

  4. National Blood Clot Alliance. SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF BLOOD CLOTS


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