10 Alarming Signs of Deep Vein Thrombosis
Updated: Jul 8
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a very serious condition that requires emergent medical attention. DVT is caused when blood within the veins, typically in the leg, forms clots.
Clotting is an essential defense mechanism of the body, but it is supposed to stop wounds from bleeding, not block veins and arteries. DVT is especially dangerous because blood clots can break off, flowing to the heart or lungs and causing a fatal pulmonary embolism.
Many factors increase your risk, including smoking, obesity, age, and limited leg movement. It is important to be aware of the signs of DVT and seek medical treatment if you notice any issues.
Swelling is a typical sign of deep vein thrombosis. When the flow of blood is blocked or reduced, it causes painful swelling. While not all DVT clots swell enough to be noticeable, you should pay attention to any visible signs of swelling. If you notice a tender or painful lump in your leg or observe swollen tissue, you should contact a physician right away. Blood clots are very serious and should never be taken lightly. If pain or other signs accompany your swelling, seek emergency care.
Pain is one of the most common signs of a blood clot causing deep vein thrombosis. Passengers on a long flight, for example, might notice a throbbing pain in their leg later that day. This type of pain occurs when blood is not able to flow freely through the vein due to the blockage, causing swelling. This is a sign that a clot has formed, and should be given immediate medical attention. If the clot breaks off and travels to your heart, it could be fatal, so do not make the mistake of ignoring leg pain.
Redness or Color Change
As blood begins to pool behind the clot, you may notice a change in skin color. The area of the leg behind the clot may become red, in addition to being swollen. Meanwhile, the areas with reduced blood flow may turn white or even blue. Any time you notice an unexplained color change on your legs, you should look for other signs that it may be DVT. If you suspect that a clot could be the cause of the redness, do not delay in getting medical assistance. Typically, redness caused by DVT would be accompanied by pain and swelling, but a doctor should examine any color changes.
Legs Feeling Tired
When parts of your body are not getting enough blood, you may notice that they feel fatigued. The same applies to DVT. To demonstrate this, try holding your arm upright, without leaning it on something. As blood flow to your hand and forearm decreases, your arm will feel weaker and more fatigued. If you experience this sensation in your leg, it may be due to a blood clot causing DVT. As the blood flow in your leg becomes restricted due to the blockage, you may notice that your leg becomes weaker and more tired. An ultrasound can confirm whether DVT is the cause.
Your skin can provide many clues about what is going on underneath it. In addition to turning red, people with deep vein thrombosis may notice that there is an issue because the skin becomes warm to the touch. This is because as the blood begins to collect in the vein behind the clot, it increases temperature and leads to warm skin. This sign usually occurs concurrently with many of the other symptoms. When it does, it is important to seek urgent medical attention to examine the clot before it has time to break off and cause severe damage.
Visible or Bulging Veins
Although it doesn't occur in everyone, visible or bulging veins may be a telltale sign of deep vein thrombosis. When a clot is present, blood is not able to flow as easily and may cause the vein the enlarge. If the tissues in your leg are swollen, it may be difficult to see whether the vein itself is swollen. However, some patients do experience this on their own. Having consistently visible veins, including varicose veins, maybe a sign that you are at higher risk for developing DVT, as well.
Shortness of Breath
If you experience shortness of breath, you should always take it very seriously. This can potentially be a sign of deep vein thrombosis, but if it is, you should call an ambulance or have someone take you to the emergency room immediately. Shortness of breath may signal that the blood clot has broken off and traveled to your lungs or heart. Pulmonary embolisms can be fatal if not treated immediately, so do not delay if you experience this symptom, especially if it is a combination with any of the other signs mentioned.
Patients who are experiencing a pulmonary embolism often have severe chest pain. This is another sign that the blood clot has traveled through your bloodstream to your lungs. Pulmonary embolisms can cause heart failure, along with other complications. The chest pain is typically accompanied by shortness of breath and other signs of cardiovascular and respiratory distress and can be a sign of this potentially fatal condition. Of course, any time that you experience severe or unexplained chest pain, you should seek emergency care. There is no way to treat a pulmonary embolism on your own.
Dizziness or Confusion
One of the other primary symptoms of deep vein thrombosis is dizziness or confusion. This may happen initially, as blood flow becomes restricted and your brain receives less oxygen. It can also happen if the blood clot breaks off and causes a pulmonary embolism. In this case, you will need to receive treatment right away to prevent permanent damage or death. When DVT turns into a pulmonary embolism, confusion, light-headedness, fatigue, and dizziness are common symptoms. If you experience this in connection with any other symptoms, you may have a life-threatening condition and should immediately contact your doctor.
Even though there are a lot of symptoms associated with DVT, an overwhelming majority of patients do not have any visible symptoms of DVT. It is important to be aware of your risk level, and pay close attention to any indication that something may be wrong. Older adults who smoke or are overweight are at a much higher risk of DVT. Also, anyone who has traveled on a long flight or otherwise spent extended periods of time without walking or stretching their lengths may be at an increased risk as well. If you notice any symptoms of DVT or have concerns about your risk level, speak to your doctor.
Prevent Blood Clots
Blood clots can happen at the end of any procedure and are much more likely to occur in the sedentary patient. Therefore, it is very important to move around as much as possible after the surgery. Pump your ankles, contract your large muscles in your legs, get up and walk within your restrictions and move all joints that are not splinted as much as possible! If you were prescribed blood thinners, then take them. If you had any lower extremity procedure and were not prescribed blood thinners, then take a baby aspirin every day as well as follow the other advice in this paragraph.
In a summary, if you experience any of the above-mentioned signs or symptoms, you must go to the emergency room immediately or call 911.
Carolina Regional Orthopaedics provides the most effective, modern, and innovative techniques in both Orthopedic Surgery and Pain Management using proven methodologies in both the surgical and non-surgical treatment of all conditions affecting the spine, upper extremities, and lower extremities. We specialize in hand and wrist surgery, joint replacements, sports medicine, trauma care, pediatric orthopedics, pain management, wound care, regenerative medicine, physical therapy, imaging services, and EMG testing.