Warning signs of DVT

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot deep in the body, usually in the veins in the lower leg. To avoid complications or greater health risks, it’s important to get checked by a doctor if you have any blood clot symptoms. DVT can be dangerous if left unchecked. But what does a blood clot feel like? 

Fortunately, there are some very recognizable warning signs of DVT that can alert you to a problem. If there’s even the slightest chance you have DVT, please see a doctor immediately. 

Learn more about deep vein thrombosis and what you should watch for. 

Can You Feel a Blood Clot? Early-Stage Blood Clot Symptoms 

The answer is: Yes. You often can feel the effects of a blood clot in the leg. 

What are the first signs of a blood clot? 

Initial signs of a blood clot include: 

  • Pain. As the clot gets worse, you may feel a sensation ranging from a dull ache to intense pain. The pain may throb in your leg, belly, or even arm. 
  • Swelling in the spot where the blood clot has formed or throughout your entire arm or leg. 
  • Change in color. Your arm or leg may take on a red or blue tinge or may become itchy. 
  • Warmer skin in the area around the blood clot. 
  • Lower leg cramp or charley horse if the blood clot is in your calf. 
  • Fluid build-up or pitting edema. A blood clot can cause fluid to build up in the arms or legs quickly. When you press on the swollen area, it can cause a dimple or “pit” that remains for a few seconds. 
  • Swollen veins with pain that increases when touched.
  • Trouble breathing. Difficulty breathing could be a sign of a blood clot in your lungs. You may experience a bad cough and even cough up some blood. You may get chest pain or feel dizzy. Call 911 to get medical help right away. 

Does blood clot pain come and go? 

Unlike the pain from a charley horse that usually goes away after stretching or with rest, the pain from a blood clot does not go away and usually gets worse with time. 

Can blood clots go away on their own? 

While it is possible for smaller blood clots to be absorbed by your body and resolve on their own, it is critical to talk with your health care provider if you think you may have symptoms of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT). 

What Is Deep Vein Thrombosis? 

DVT is a blood clot that forms in a vein deep inside your body, usually within a leg. 

Warning signs of DVT 

Early symptoms of DVT include: 

  • Swelling. 
  • Tightness in the leg. 
  • Persistent, throbbing, cramp-like feeling in the leg. 
  • Pain or tenderness when standing or walking. 

As the blood clot worsens, the skin around it often becomes red or discolored and feels warm to the touch. 

Even if your DVT symptoms seem mild and you’re unsure if you have a clot, you should call your doctor, especially if you are at increased risk of DVT. 

Avoid Complications with Treatment 

Waiting to get treatment can lead to varicose veins, pain, and ulcers in the leg from prolonged swelling. Vascular surgeons may treat acute or chronic DVT with: 

Interventional procedures 

  • Thrombolysis: A catheter delivers medication to break up a blood clot. Doctors perform thrombolysis in the hospital under careful monitoring. 
  • Vena cava (IVC) filters: Small metal devices are positioned in the vena cava — near the renal (kidney) veins — to stop blood clots in the legs before they can travel to the heart and lungs and cause a pulmonary embolism. 
  • Venous stenting: Thin tubes called stents are placed in the vena cava or pelvic veins to open a thrombosed vein and help relieve or prevent leg swelling. Vascular surgeons often perform venous stenting with thrombolysis — either right away or years after DVT is causing symptoms. 


  • Venous bypass: Very rarely, you may need surgery to restore normal vein circulation. This procedure often is needed after years of large deep vein clots. 

Pulmonary embolism symptoms 

Although most clots dissolve on their own, sometimes a clot will break apart. When a clot breaks apart and travels to the lungs, it can cause a pulmonary embolism (PE)—a potentially fatal complication. 

Symptoms of a PE include: 

  • Unexplained shortness of breath. 
  • Pain when you take deep breaths. 
  • Coughing up blood. 

According to the American Lung Association, PE affects about 1 in every 1,000 people in the U.S. each year. The majority of PEs are caused by clots breaking loose from DVT in the legs or arms. 

What can be mistaken for a blood clot? 

Other conditions have similar symptoms to DVT and PE.  For example, muscle injury, cellulitis (a bacterial skin infection), and inflammation (swelling) of veins that are just under the skin can be mistaken for DVT. That is why it is important to call your doctor so they can run specific tests that look for blood clots. 

Diagnosis: What Happens Next? 

DVT is always diagnosed by a physician who will review your symptoms and risk factors and rule out any other conditions. 

How Is DVT detected? 

If your doctor suspects you have a blood clot, he or she will likely order more tests. The two main tests used to confirm DVT are: 

  • D-dimer test is a blood test for a specific protein called D-dimer. D-dimer is produced when a blood clot dissolves inside the body. High levels of it may signify DVT. This test can be done in your doctor’s office or lab. 
  • Ultrasound is the imaging technique most often used to diagnose DVT. It uses sound waves to make images of the inside of your body and can reveal any clots in the veins. If your doctor thinks you may be high risk for DVT, they may skip the D-dimer test and go right to the ultrasound. 

DVT is treatable, so don’t wait for your symptoms to worsen before getting in touch with your doctor. 

If you think you may have deep vein thrombosis, visit the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute online to learn more or to schedule an appointment with an expert. 




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