Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) Symptoms and Diagnosis

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 signs of a problem. Talk to your doctor right away if you think you might have DVT.

Symptoms of DVT

Call your doctor's office right away if you have any of 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 that are swollen, red, hard, or tender to the touch 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

Your doctor will ask about your health, medical history, and symptoms, and she'll do a physical exam. The doctor will decide if you have a low or high risk of DVT. This will help her 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. The technician 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. A radiologist or someone who is specially trained has to look at the images to explain what's going on.

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This test isn't so good for finding blood clots very deep inside the body, such as in 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 him 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 sliding 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 12, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

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.”

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