Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) Symptoms and Diagnosis


Deep vein thrombosis can have the same symptoms as many other health problems. But about half the time, this blood clot in a deep vein, often in your leg, 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 signs of a problem. Talk to your doctor right away if you think you might have DVT.

Symptoms of DVT

Call your doctor right away if you have these DVT symptoms, especially if they appear suddenly:

  • Swelling in one or both legs
  • Pain or tenderness in your leg, ankle, foot, or arm. It might feel like a cramp or charley horse that you can’t get rid of. Leg and foot pain might only happen when you stand or walk.
  • Warm skin on your leg
  • Red or discolored skin on your leg
  • Veins that are swollen, red, hard, or tender to the touch that you can see

Call 911 or go to an emergency room right away if you notice leg pain or swelling and:

  • Sudden coughing, which may bring up blood
  • Sharp chest pain or chest tightness
  • Pain in your shoulder, arm, back, or jaw
  • Rapid breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain when you breathe
  • Severe lightheadedness
  • Fast heartbeat

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.

Diagnosis and Tests

The doctor will ask about your health, medical history, and symptoms, and they’ll do a physical exam. They’ll decide if you have a low or high risk of DVT. This will help them decide which tests to do. You may also need to have tests to rule out other problems or to confirm the diagnosis.

  • D-dimer test. It looks for D-dimer, a protein that shows up in your blood when a clot starts to break down. If you have a clot, levels will be high.
  • 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. A technician spreads warm gel on your skin and then rubs a wand over the area where they think 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. This test isn't so good for finding blood clots very deep inside the body, like your pelvis.
  • Venography. This is a special X-ray. The doctor injects a radioactive dye into a vein on the top of your foot to help them see your veins and maybe a clot. It's more accurate than an ultrasound, but there's a slight chance it will cause more blood clots.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). You lie still on a table while radio waves and a strong magnetic field make detailed pictures of the inside of your body on a computer. (You'll hear loud tapping or knocking sounds during the test.) You might need to get a shot to make your blood vessels show up better.

This can find DVT in your pelvis and thigh. And your doctor can look at both legs at once. MRI is much more expensive than other tests, though.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on July 17, 2019



American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: "Deep Vein Thrombosis."

American Academy of Family Physicians: "Deep Vein Thrombosis."

Society of Interventional Radiology: "Deep Vein Thrombosis."

Society for Vascular Surgery: "Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)."

ACR/RSNA: "What Is Vascular Ultrasound?" and "What Is MRI of the Body?"

FDA: "Avoid Deep Vein Thrombosis: Keep the Blood Flowing."

Mayo Clinic: “Blood Clots: When to see a doctor,” “Thrombophlebitis.”

Medscape: “Deep Venous Thrombosis (DVT) Clinical Presentation.”

UpToDate: “Clinical presentation and diagnosis of the nonpregnant adult with suspected deep vein thrombosis of the lower extremity.”

Blood Clot Recovery Network: “When should I call my doctor?”

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