Deep Vein Thrombosis: More Than a Pain in the Leg

Submitted by Dr. Ben Fickenscher on April 26, 2021

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Know the signs of DVT.

Whether you are recovering from a recent surgery or have medical conditions that put you at risk, it is important to know the signs and symptoms of Deep Vein Thrombosis or DVT.
 

man holding his legs in painWhat is DVT?

Deep vein thrombosis is a blood clot that forms in a deep vein in the body. They usually start in the pelvis or leg and can break loose and travel, causing a life-threatening blood clot in the lung called a Pulmonary Embolism or PE.
 

Signs of DVT can include:

  • Swelling in the leg or arm that comes on without warning
  • Pain in the leg or arm that may feel warm 
  • Enlarged veins
  • Skin color changes
  • The pain and/or swelling from DVT usually affects an arm or leg, rather than both
Seek medical attention if you experience any of these symptoms.
 

A DVT may have no symptoms until it becomes a pulmonary embolism. Call 911 immediately if you:

  • Feel short of breath
  • Experience chest pain
  • Are aware of an unexplained increase in heart rate
  • Are coughing up blood
  • Faint (pass out) unexpectedly or without other explanation
Treatment for DVT can include blood thinning medication, compression stockings or a vein filter. 
 

Anyone can experience a DVT, but you are most at risk after age 40. Other risk factors include: 

  • Recent surgery or injury, which can damage veins and slow blood flow or cause you to be less active. 
  • Inactivity, including sitting for long periods and bed rest.  This can cause blood to pool in the pelvis and lower limbs.
  • Pregnancy which increases pressure in a woman’s leg veins and pelvis and makes the blood more likely to clot.
  • Obesity can cause more pressure on the blood vessels in the lower part of the body. 
  • Cancer and certain cancer treatments, including central venous catheters, surgeries and chemotherapy, can impact the way your blood clots.
  • Smoking makes blood cells stickier than the cells of non-smokers.
  • Hormone replacement therapy and birth control pills can make your blood more likely to clot.
  • Other conditions like heart disease and inherited blood disorders can thicken your blood and cause clotting. 
You can reduce your risk of most conditions, including DVT, with basic lifestyle changes, including maintaining a healthy weight, exercising and following your doctor’s orders. Check with your primary care physician for more personalized information about how to stay healthy and reduce your risk of DVT and PE.
 
Dr. Ben Fickenscher is an emergency medicine physician at Chesapeake Regional Medical Center's Emergency Department. He practices with Chesapeake Emergency Physicians, where he also serves as Managing Partner. He received his medical degree from Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, Va. and holds a degree in biology from The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va. He is currently serving as President of CRMC's medical staff.