Is It DVT or Something Else?

If one of your legs is red, swollen, painful, or warm, get it checked out right away. A number of conditions can cause these symptoms. Some of them are harmless. Others are much more serious.

Learn when it’s nothing serious and when you should get checked by a doctor.

Deep Vein Thrombosis

This is a blood clot that forms in a vein deep inside your body, most often in your leg.

If a piece of the clot breaks off and travels to your lungs, it can cause a pulmonary embolism -- a blood clot in your lung. It can be deadly.

You can get DVT at any age, and several things can cause it. Some of them are:

DVT normally affects just one leg. Symptoms include:

  • Unequal swelling, where one leg is larger than the other
  • Pain or tenderness when you stand or walk
  • Warmth
  • Red or discolored skin

About half of the people who get it won’t have any signs. You may not know you have a clot unless a piece of it breaks off and travels to your lung. That’s a medical emergency. Call 911 right away if you have:

Superficial Thrombophlebitis

This happens when a blood clot forms in a vein just under your skin. If you have it, you may notice some or all of the following:

  • Swelling
  • Pain
  • Tenderness
  • Warmth
  • Redness

These symptoms are much like those for DVT. About 20% of people who have superficial thrombophlebitis also get a blood clot in their leg. Call your doctor if you notice anything unusual. He’ll be able to rule out a more serious problem.


Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)

You get this when the arteries in your legs become hard and narrow. In PAD, plaque builds up in the arteries. Over time, it can block blood flow to your legs.

Some of the symptoms are:

  • Pain, numbness, aching, or heaviness in your legs when you walk
  • Cramps in your feet, leg, or butt
  • Sores or wounds on your feet or legs that don’t get better
  • Pale or bluish-colored skin
  • One leg feels cooler than the other

PAD isn’t a medical emergency, but lack of blood flow to your legs can cause serious problems like gangrene. That’s when the tissue in your leg dies.

You’ll also have a greater risk for heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. But when you make changes to manage your condition, you’ll lower your chances of getting those, too. The same risks that lead to heart attacks and strokes also cause PAD. They include smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

Varicose Veins

These appear just beneath the surface of your skin. You get them when the valves inside your veins become weak or damaged. Normally, the valves help blood flow up to your heart. When they don’t work right, blood pools inside your veins. They swell and become large and rope-like.

If you have this condition, you’ll notice some or all of the following:

  • Swollen ankles and feet
  • Throbbing or cramping in your legs
  • Itchy lower legs or ankles
  • Achy, painful legs
  • Heaviness in your legs

Varicose veins aren’t serious. Talk to your doctor about treatments.

Spider Veins

These are a smaller type of varicose veins. They affect your capillaries, the smallest blood vessels in your body.

You’re most likely to get these on your legs or face. They look like a spider web or the branches on a tree. They’re usually a blue or reddish color. You may not like how they look, but they don’t cause any medical problems.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on December 4, 2017



National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: “Deep Vein Thrombosis.”

Jack Ansell, MD, professor of medicine, Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine.

CDC: “Venous Thromboembolism.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Superficial Thrombophlebitis.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Deep Vein Thrombosis.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Peripheral Artery Disease.”

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: “Peripheral Artery Disease.”

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: “Varicose Veins.”

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