8 Silent Signs of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)
If you miss the symptoms of DVT—a blood clot in a large vein typically located in the leg—the consequences could be life threatening. Here are the clues to watch for.
Your leg swells
If you’ve noticed one leg is looking larger than the other, it might be time to get suspicious about deep vein thrombosis and DVT symptoms. “Leg swelling is caused when a blood clot in the vein prevents blood from returning from the leg back to the heart,” explains Geoffrey Barnes, MD, MSc, cardiologist and vascular medicine specialist at the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center and a member of the Society for Vascular Medicine. “The swelling could also cause pain or discomfort.”
Some people with DVT might experience the sensation of a “pulled muscle” or a cramp that will not go away, Dr. Barnes says. “If either of these are associated with leg swelling, it should be evaluated for a possible DVT.” The discomfort of DVT could also feel like a throbbing ache or tenderness, adds the Society for Vascular Medicine (SVM). If a doctor determines that your pain is not DVT, consider these home remedies for muscle soreness and pain.
Your leg is a funny color
A red or even bluish-purple tinge to your skin could be reason to worry, according to the SVM. “It’s the collecting of blood that leads to discoloration, as well as the swelling and discomfort,” explains Dr. Barnes.
Your skin feels toasty to the touch
If your leg starts to feel warm, evidence is mounting that DVT might be present. The warmth is also a result of the accumulation of blood in the area, Dr. Barnes says.
Your DVT symptoms are subtle … or they’re severe
The intensity with which these clues crop up may vary from person to person. “Every patient is a little different,” Dr. Barnes notes. “Some patients have very subtle, slowly developing symptoms. But most patients have symptoms that are quite bothersome and arise over a few short days.”
Your DVT symptoms return or worsen
In general, when symptoms like pain and swelling are caused by an accident such as a twisted ankle they clear up as the injury heals. But in cases where discomfort and swelling don’t improve—or improve but come back later—DVT could be to blame. “If that pain and swelling does not get better over a few days or if it progresses beyond the point of injury—for example higher up the leg than the ankle—people should consider they might have a DVT and get checked out by their doctor,” says Dr. Barnes. Also, be on the lookout for the 7 silent signs of a blood clot.
Or, you don’t have any DVT symptoms at all
It’s common that people with DVT may not experience a single outward sign, which could make the condition challenging to catch. “The tragedy of these diseases is that their diagnosis is easy to overlook because the signs and symptoms are often diffuse and difficult to recognize,” Elizabeth G. Nabel, MD, then director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute wrote in The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent Deep Vein Thrombosis and Pulmonary Embolism in 2008. “In many cases, there are no clinically apparent signs at all. Perhaps as many as 50 percent of the cases of DVT are “silent.”’
You also have DVT risk factors
If you suspect DVT, your doctor wants to hear from you. “Many patients with a DVT will develop long-term swelling and aching, known as the post-thrombotic syndrome,” says Dr. Barnes. “Early and effective treatment can help to prevent the post-thrombotic syndrome from developing.” In addition, if left untreated a DVT could embolize—meaning the clot could break free and travel through the body—to the lungs, resulting in a pulmonary embolism. A doctor can help prevent this life-threatening development by prescribing blood thinners (anticoagulants). Additional treatment options could include a filter inserted in the largest vein of the body, or clot-busting medications injected directly to the site, according to the SVM. “Contact your health care professional promptly to see if you have a DVT and discuss the various treatment options,” says Dr. Barnes. Here are more types of leg pain you should never ignore.