How Do You Know You Have Deep Vein Thrombosis?

  • Medical Author:
    Benjamin Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM

    Dr. Ben Wedro practices emergency medicine at Gundersen Clinic, a regional trauma center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His background includes undergraduate and medical studies at the University of Alberta, a Family Practice internship at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and residency training in Emergency Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Ask the experts

How do you know you have deep vein thrombosis? What does DVT in the leg feel like?

Doctor's response

The signs and symptoms of DVT are related to obstruction of blood returning to the heart and causing a backup of blood in the leg. Classic symptoms include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Warmth
  • Redness

You may or may not have all of these symptoms, or your may have none. The symptoms of the condition may mimic an infection or cellulitis of the arm or leg.

In the past doctors and other health care professionals perform simple tests on patients to make a diagnosis of a blood clot in the leg; however, they have not been effective. For example, pulling the patient's toes toward the nose (Homans' sign), and squeezing the calf to produce pain (Pratt's sign). Today, doctors and health care professionals usually do not rely upon whether these signs and symptoms are present to make the diagnosis or decide that you have DVT.

Signs and symptoms of superficial blood clots

Blood clots in the superficial vein system (closer to the surface of the skin), most often occur due to trauma to the vein, which causes a small blood clot to form. Inflammation of the vein and surrounding skin causes the symptoms similar to any other type of inflammation, for example,

  • Redness
  • Warmth
  • Tenderness
  • Swelling

You often can feel the vein as a firm, thickened cord. There may be inflammation that follows the course of part of the leg vein. Although there is inflammation, there is no infection.

Varicosities can predispose to superficial thrombophlebitis and varicose veins. This occurs when the valves of the larger veins in the superficial system fail (the greater and lesser saphenous veins), which allows blood to back up and cause the veins to swell and become distorted or tortuous. The valves fail when veins lose their elasticity and stretch. This can be due to age, prolonged standing, obesity, pregnancy, and genetic factors.

Read our full medical article about deep vein thrombosis (DVT) to learn more.

REFERENCE:

"Clinical presentation and diagnosis of the nonpregnant adult with suspected deep vein thrombosis of the lower extremity"
UpToDate.com

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Reviewed on 10/2/2017