What is Deep Vein Thrombosis?

Q: How do I know if I have a blood clot in my leg?

A: Half of all deep vein thrombosis cases cause no symptoms. It is difficult to identify because the symptoms are similar to many other health problems.

Deep vein thrombosis is a formation of a blood clot in a deep vein. They can occur anywhere in the body, but are most frequently found in the deep veins of the legs, thighs, and pelvis. It can partly or completely block blood flow, causing pain and swelling. The blood clot can also break free and travel through your blood to major organs, such as your lungs or heart. There, it can cause damage and even death within hours.

If the following symptoms occur, especially suddenly, call your doctor right away.

  • Swelling in one or both legs
  • Pain or tenderness in one or both legs, which may occur only while standing or walking
  • Warmth in the skin of the affected leg
  • Red or discolored skin in the affected leg
  • Visible surface veins
  • Leg fatigue

You are at risk of DVT if you are over 60, smoke, overweight and sit for long periods of time. To diagnose DVT, your doctor will ask about your health, medical history, and symptoms, as well as perform a physical exam. However, because DVT symptoms are shared by many other conditions, you may need one or more special tests to rule out other problems or to confirm a diagnosis.

If a blood clot breaks free and travels to your lungs, it's called a pulmonary embolism, and can be fatal. It may not cause symptoms, but if you ever suffer sudden coughing, which may bring up blood; sharp chest pain; rapid breathing or shortness of breath; or severe lightheadedness, call 911 or go to an emergency room immediately.

Treatment for DVT ranges from medications to self-care to surgery. Discuss treatment with your doctor.

To lower the risk and help prevent DVT:

  • Maintain an active lifestyle and exercise regularly.
  • Manage weight with exercise and healthy diet.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Manage blood pressure regularly.
  • Report any family or personal history of blood-clotting problems to your doctor.
  • Discuss alternatives to birth control pills or hormone-replacement therapy with your doctor.
  • During travel for more than 4 hours, either walk or do leg stretches in your seat and also stay well-hydrated and avoid alcohol consumption.

By Erica Stoeger, APNP, nurse practitioner, ThedaCare Physicians-New London.