According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), perhaps 900,000 people will struggle with deep vein thrombosis (DVT) in a given year. Unfortunately, the CDC also estimates that perhaps 100,000 of these people may die from complications related to DVT.
Considering up to 1 in 9 people may die from this condition, that makes being able to spot this condition right away a crucial first step in getting professional treatment.
So, let’s start with the basics: what exactly is deep vein thrombosis, anyway?
What is DVT?
Deep vein thrombosis, also known as DVT, is a condition where a blood clot forms in one of the body’s deeper veins. Thrombosis is the medical term that refers to a blood clot (thrombus) forming.
Where does it occur?
DVT most commonly occurs in either the thighs or lower body. However, it can occur in other areas of the body, too.
What are the complications of DVT?
Blood clots should always be taken seriously. With DVT, blood clots may break, allowing them to travel all the way up to the lungs. Once there, they may become stuck and prevent blood flow. This potentially fatal complication is known as pulmonary embolism.
What are the symptoms of DVT?
DVT can cause several symptoms; some people may not show symptoms at all, making spotting this condition occasionally difficult. When symptoms appear, though, it’s time to get medical attention right away to reduce the risk of serious medical complications like pulmonary embolism.
The first potential sign of DVT? It’s a real pain—literally…
1. Leg Pain
DVT may result in sudden and consistent pain in the leg (if that is where the clot is).
What does the pain feel like?
It resembles a pressure or throbbing of the vein.
Where exactly in the leg is the pain?
This pain will generally be located in the same region that the vein with the blood clot is located. Just know that this pain is not always limited to this particular area; many patients report feeling pressure or pain in other seemingly unaffected areas of the body as well.
How severe is the pain?
The severity of the pain can range anywhere from a mild pain to a more severe pressure that throbs. In severe cases, it can negatively impact daily life.
Why does DVT cause pain?
The short answer
Pain is likely one of the most common symptoms for individuals that have DVT, likely for the same reason it’s the most prevalent symptom for blood clots in general: overstretched veins.
The long answer
When blood cells cluster and form clots, they force the vein to bulge out. In general, veins are only capable of stretching out a certain distance. So, this bulging causes extra strain, pressure, and stretching on the vein, all of which can cause pain.
This pain serves a purpose, though. Specifically, the pain is ultimately the body’s way of saying that there is something wrong and it requires medical attention.
The following sign of DVT isn’t one that’s felt, but rather seen…
2. Discolored Skin
DVT may also cause discoloration of the surrounding area of the affected vein.
Where exactly does this discoloration occur?
This discoloration is usually directly above or located in the general area of the affected vein.
What color will the discoloration be?
The skin can present a range of different colors, including a bluish or a whitish pigmentation. Ultimately, the color of the skin depends on how deep the vein is as well as some other determining factors.
How the discoloration presents as far as shape goes can also vary. Some may notice just a few blotches or patches while others may notice that a significant portion of their leg (if DVT occurs in that area) is discolored.
Why does DVT cause discoloration?
DVT can affect the appearance of skin in two primary ways.
The most prominent reason? It has to do with blood cells. Specifically, discoloration or hyperpigmentation is due to cells breaking down. Even more specifically, as red blood cells pass through the area of the clotted vein, they break down. This breakdown can alter the amount as well as the type of cells that pass through the area.
The abnormal passing of blood cells also affects skin color because it frequently causes the skin to become dry and flaky, which may affect the appearance of skin as well.
If the leg is pained, discolored, and the following, it might be DVT…
3. Leg Swelling
Individuals with deep vein thrombosis may also experience some leg swelling. This symptom involves the affected area becoming larger in size than the rest of the limb. In some cases, a bulging of the veins may occur.
In addition to the bulging, patients may also feel pain and tightening of the skin over where the affected vein is located.
Why does DVT cause leg swelling?
There may be a few reasons why DVT causes the leg (or other affected area) to swell.
- The physical bulge in the vein with the blood clot. As blood cells collect and clot in the vein, the vein grows in size. This growth causes the cells on the outside of the vein to pass through abnormally, which in turn creates a cluster.
- Swelling. Swelling itself is caused by an increase of inflammatory cytokines to a specific area of the body. The body commonly releases these cells in response to disease and infection. In some cases, the body may therefore send cytokines to the site of the clot.
DVT can also cause things to heat up—literally…
4. Skin That’s Warm to the Touch
A warm feeling over the affected area is also common among individuals that have deep vein thrombosis.
How far does the warmth spread?
The size of the warm patch depends on various factors, including how large the blood clot is, the location of the vein, and the size of the vein itself.
The warm feeling usually doesn’t cause any pain by itself. However, this symptom importantly signifies that something abnormal is occurring within the body. So, it should be taken seriously.
Why does DVT cause skin to warm?
DVT essentially causes to warm because of the increase in blood cell activity in the affected region. In other words, the body works hard to remove the blood clot itself; the area may warm up as a result.
A simple cool cloth over the affected area may provide temporary relief, although this cloth won’t be able to help with the following symptom of DVT…
Where is the weakness located?
There are many types of body weakness DVT can cause:
- Weakness in one leg
- Weakness in the lower half of the body
- Overall body weakness
This symptom can present problems with walking, standing, or even sitting.
How severe is this weakness?
How weak someone feels will vary depending on the certain size and location of the blood clot.
Why does DVT cause leg weakness?
The primary way DVT results in blood clots? It’s a side effect of the body working overtime to fight the condition. In other words, the body expends lots of energy trying to remove the clot, which can result in weakness and fatigue.
Weakness may also occur because, well, there’s a blood clot present. And blood clots mean less oxygen-carrying blood is traveling to the affected area. What does a lack of oxygen mean? Oftentimes, weakness and fatigue.
The following DVT sign is easily spotted and can be cause for alarm…
6. Skin Reddening
In some DVT patients, the skin around the affected area can redden.
How far will the redness spread?
The size and redness of the patch will depend on different factors. It may come as a surprise to many, but sometimes the severity of the clot doesn’t place as large a role in influencing redness so much as location does.
For instance, a smaller blood clot located close to the surface of the skin can result in bright red coloring. This case may look quite severe. However, an even more severe clot may not look as bad if it’s within a deeper vein.
Why does DVT cause skin reddening?
DVT can mean inflammation, and inflammation often means reddening of the affected area. If the skin becomes dry and itchy, someone may scratch the area, worsening the discoloration.
However, itching the area might become painful if the following symptom develops…
Tenderness isn’t quite pain, although it is still an uncomfortable feeling of heightened sensitivity.
Why does DVT cause tenderness?
The surface of skin above the affected area is likely tender because of the high amount of blood cells in that area. Slightly linked to the symptom of pain, blood clots cause veins to expand more than they’re supposed to; this process generates pain. This pain might not present right away, especially if the blood clot is a smaller one.
Tenderness is ultimately present when there is pain in the vein from it expanding so much. However, this tenderness is often only felt when there is pressure placed on or near the affected vein.
Coming up is perhaps the single-most classic sign of deep vein thrombosis…
8. Hard Veins
When veins harden, the case for DVT becomes stronger.
Why is this symptom serious?
Besides pulmonary embolism, hardened veins are the other major complication of deep vein thrombosis. Why? Because hardened veins can scar, which means reduced efficiency of the affected blood vessels.
Since this damage is difficult to treat and can easily worsen, it can lead to even more serious complications down the road. That’s why noticing any of the previous symptoms, or the following, is a sign that it’s time to see a doctor right away…
9. Leg Cramping
Leg cramps are involuntary leg muscle contractions. In some cases, the amount of pain cramping generates can be severe for DVT patients.
Why does DVT cause leg cramps?
DVT causes blood cells to travel abnormally. This irregular flow may cause muscles to randomly contract. Additionally, large enough clots can expand the vein so much that it comes into contact with a nearby muscle, which may trigger a contraction.
The final symptom of DVT on our list? It’ll leave many people scratching…
10. Itching and Inflammation
The type of itching associated with DVT is unlike the typical everyday itch. Rather, DVT’s itching is the result of excessively dry, flaky, and inflamed skin causing so much discomfort that many respond to by itching.
Not all people are known to experience itching sensations while they have DVT, but it can still possibly cause discomfort if it’s not addressed.
How severe is this symptom?
The severity of the itching can range from minor itching to more severe inflammation that involves cracked skin.
Why does DVT sometimes cause itching and inflamed skin?
DVT can result in swelling and inflammation, which may cause dry, flaky, and itchy skin.
What should people who think they have DVT know above all else?…
If DVT is suspected, it’s important to see a medical professional to receive a proper diagnosis.
Don’t ignore discomfort.
Overall, DVT can cause tremendous amounts of painful, irritable, and dangerous symptoms that can leave affected individuals debilitated. That’s why it’s important to know the different symptoms of deep vein thrombosis, so someone can seek medical attention if they suspect they have the condition.
Blood clots can lead to deadly complications.
DVT-caused blood clots can result in several serious complications, including pulmonary embolism, which is a potentially fatal condition. Therefore, it’s better to play it safe rather than sorry when it comes to addressing potential symptoms of deep vein thrombosis.