Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot in one of the major deep veins, usually of the lower legs, thighs, or pelvis. A clot blocks blood circulation through these veins, which carries blood from the lower body back to the heart. The blockage can cause pain, swelling, or warmth in the leg. Blood clots in the veins can cause inflammation called thrombophlebitis. If the clot breaks loose and travels through the bloodstream, it can block a blood vessel in the lungs. Called pulmonary embolism, this can lead to severe trouble breathing and even death.
In the U.S., between 300,000 and 600,000 people per year get deep vein thrombosis. About 100,000 people die each year from pulmonary embolism.
A deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot in a vein deep in your body. Usually it's in a lower leg, thigh, pelvis, or arm.
There aren't always symptoms. If there are, they usually include swelling and sometimes pain and tenderness.
“Typically, a person calls saying, ‘I’ve had three or four days of swelling in one of my legs and it won’t go down,’” says Terri Remy, MD, of Virginia Hospital Center.
You’re more likely to have a DVT if you:
Have a blood clotting disorder
Disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), a condition in which blood clotting occurs inappropriately, usually caused by overwhelming infection or organ failure
Certain heart or respiratory conditions
If a person has one deep vein thrombosis, they are more likely to have a second deep vein thrombosis.
Deep Vein Thrombosis Symptoms
Symptoms happen in the leg when a clot blocks blood flow and causes inflammation. Symptoms may include the following:
Warmth to the touch
Worsening leg pain when bending the ankle up towards the shin
Leg cramps, especially at night
Bluish or whitish skin
About 50% of people with deep vein thrombosis do not have symptoms.
When to Seek Medical Care
Call a doctor immediately if you think you have DVT. Although a deep vein thrombosis may get better on its own, it could also lead to a life-threatening pulmonary embolism. The doctor may tell you to go immediately to a hospital emergency room.
If someone has leg pain or swelling with any risk factors for DVT, go to an emergency room immediately.
Call 911 if you or someone you know begins having chest pain, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, fainting, or any other symptoms that concern you.