Deep vein thrombosis -- a blood clot in a deep vein, often in your leg -- can look like many other health problems. And half the time, DVT causes no symptoms.
If you're over 60, you smoke, you're overweight, or you sit for long periods of time, your risk for the condition is higher -- so stay alert for some possible signs of a problem. Talk to your doctor as soon as possible if you think you might have DVT.
The greatest danger from deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is that the clot will break loose, travel through your blood, and damage an organ.
"The place it gets stuck most commonly is the lungs, and that's called a pulmonary embolism (PE)," says Molly Cooke, MD, of the University of California, San Francisco. Less often, another clot can form and travel to the brain and cause a stroke. If a clot travels to the heart, it could cause a heart attack. A clot in the kidneys can cause kidney failure.
Pick up the phone if you have these symptoms, especially if they appear suddenly:
Swelling in one or both legs
Pain or tenderness in one or both legs, even if it's just when you stand or walk
Warm skin on your leg
Red or discolored skin on your leg
Veins you can see
If you have a blood clot and it breaks free, it could travel to your lungs. That's called a pulmonary embolism, and it can be deadly. Like DVT, it may not cause symptoms.
Call 911 or go to an emergency room right away if you notice:
Sudden coughing, which may bring up blood
Sharp chest pain
Rapid breathing or shortness of breath
Get a Diagnosis
Your doctor will ask about your health, medical history, and symptoms, and she'll do a physical exam. You may also need to have tests to rule out other problems or to confirm the diagnosis.
Duplex ultrasound. This test doesn't hurt, it doesn't put anything inside your body, and there's no radiation like with an X-ray. The doctor spreads warm gel on your skin and then rubs a wand over the area where he thinks the clot could be. The wand sends sound waves into your body and relays the echoes to a computer, which makes pictures of your blood vessels and sometimes the blood clots. Someone who is specially trained has to look at the images to explain what's going on.
This test isn't so good for finding blood clots very deep inside the body, such as in your pelvis.