You’re concerned you might have deep vein thrombosis (DVT), so you decide to see a doctor as soon as possible. It’s a smart choice that can lead to peace of mind -- and fast treatment if you need it.
What to Expect
Whether you see your own doctor or see someone in the emergency room, they’ll give you a physical exam and ask you questions about your health. This gives them an idea of how likely you are to have DVT, a blood clot in a deep vein.
They’ll probably ask you things like:
What are your symptoms? DVT usually happens in your lower leg, thigh, or pelvis. Less often, it affects your arm. It doesn’t always cause symptoms. But when it does, that part of your body could be:
- Tender to the touch or painful
- Warm, crampy, or achy
- Red or discolored
Having one or more of these symptoms doesn’t mean you definitely have a deep-vein clot. Other conditions that can cause similar signs include a muscle injury, swollen veins under the surface of your skin, or a bacterial skin infection called cellulitis.
Have you had other health problems recently? Conditions that can make you more likely to get a deep-vein blood clot include:
- Broken bones
- Serious muscle injury
- Certain cancers and their treatments
- Heart attack or heart failure
Have you recently had surgery? Your risk for DVT can go up after a major operation that involves your leg, hip, pelvis, or belly. If you need to be inactive for a long time while you recover, that can raise the odds, too. (Your surgeon or medical team can give you advice on how to lower your chances of getting a blood clot while you recover.)
Have you been very inactive for another reason ? A lack of movement for a long period of time, such as from bed rest or long-distance travel, could make your odds for DVT go up because it slows blood flow.
Are you taking a hormone-based medication? If you’re a woman, birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy could raise your chances for DVT. The odds of this happening may be highest during the first few months you take them.
Are you pregnant, or have you recently had a baby? Pregnancy can make DVT more likely, possibly for up to 3 months after you give birth.
Do you have other risk factors for DVT? The doctor might ask you about other things that can raise your risk, including:
- Your age, especially if you’re over 40
- A past case of DVT
- An inherited blood-clotting disorder
- A close relative who’s had DVT
Your doctor will also give you a physical exam. They’ll check your body for signs of DVT or complications from it. They may check your heart rate, too.
Afterward, if your doctor thinks you might have DVT, they’ll order one or more tests to confirm it. These could include a blood test and imaging tests like ultrasound or MRI. Tests can help your doctor spot blood clots in your deep veins and rule out conditions that could bring on similar symptoms.
When Should You Go to the ER?
If you notice possible signs of DVT and can’t reach your doctor, go to the emergency room right away.
Call 911 if you have severe symptoms like:
- Shortness of breath
- Sharp chest pain
- Back pain
- Coughing, with or without blood
- Fast heartbeat
These can be signs of a dangerous complication from DVT called a pulmonary embolism (PE). That’s when a blood clot breaks loose and gets caught in a lung artery. It can be life-threatening. For some people, PE symptoms are the first clue that they have DVT.
If a doctor at the hospital thinks you have PE, they’ll use tests that can spot a clot in your lungs and rule out problems that can bring on similar-looking symptoms, like a heart attack or pneumonia.