What are the symptoms of deep vein thrombosis (DVT)?

Symptoms of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) include swelling, pain and redness in the affected limb. Veins drain the blood from the limb to the heart; if they are blocked, the arteries pump blood in but it can't drain out. This is what causes the swelling and pain.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

This type of pain starts deep inside the calf and feels like an ache or a cramp similar to a charley horse. The leg area may become swollen and red with the sudden appearance of varicose veins.

Leg pain like this can be a sign of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), which occurs when a blood clot forms inside a vein. This situation can become life threatening when a clot gets loose and travels through the bloodstream, causing an embolism that can get stuck in the heart, lungs, or other area.

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Because deep vein thrombosis (DVT) means the blood in your veins has trouble making it upward against gravity to your heart, the affected area (often a leg) may swell with the clotting and damming of blood, causing pain. Blood cells may escape the veins and gather near the skin, causing red, scaly, itchy skin. Your veins may heal by becoming scar tissue, resulting in chronic deep vein insufficiency. This can cause additional swelling.

Roughly 50 percent of people with deep vein thrombosis experience no symptoms at all. Since these people's DVT goes untreated, they are at greater risk of pulmonary embolism, in which a blood clot travels toward the heart and blocks the flow of blood to the heart. Get emergency medical attention immediately if you feel symptoms of a pulmonary embolism, including dizziness, light-headedness, sudden shortness of breath, chest pain, anxiety, or coughing up blood.

The most common symptoms of DVT are swelling of the leg, pain while walking or standing, and redness of the skin on the leg. Some people with DVT also experience pain, particularly when the foot is bent upward. Thrombophlebitis often causes redness that can be seen over the area of the affected vein. The vein may also feel hard and thick, like a piece of rope. Some people experience swelling of the extremity and heat or pain over the vein. These symptoms sometimes are accompanied by fever if the vein is infected.

Symptoms of deep vein thrombosis include swelling in the legs, discomfort, and changes to the skin. Symptoms of deep vein thrombosis are related to blockage.

In almost half of all cases, deep vein thrombosis (DVT) does not cause any symptoms. In symptomatic cases, the most common signs of DVT are:

  • pain in one leg, especially when standing or with movement
  • edema or swelling in the leg
  • leg tenderness
  • changes in skin color, such as a red or bluish tinge to the affected area 
  • increased warmth at the affected area
  • affected leg appearing larger than the other

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.