A venous clot is a colloquial term for deep vein thrombosis (DVT) that blocks the blood flow from your leg’s deep veins. It can lead to complications that further impact your mobility and quality of life. Additionally, if a blood clot breaks and makes its way into your lungs, a condition called pulmonary embolism (PE) ensues. PE can be fatal, with death rates as high as 30%. Hence, it’s crucial to know the warning signs of a blood clot.
A venous blood clot differs from common clotting in response to an injury or a cut to cease bleeding.
When a blood clot forms in your veins, where it serves no purpose, it is called a thrombus and is detrimental.
Early detection and timely treatment are crucial to preventing complications of blood clots.
Swollen, cord-like tender veins associated with leg pain, swelling, redness, and warmth are common clues to DVT.
Call your healthcare provider immediately if you notice any of these red flags.
Signs and symptoms of a venous blood clot
Blood clot symptoms most commonly affect the calf, but they may occur anywhere in the leg up to the groin. They may also involve the arm if that’s the area where a clot has formed. In addition, when present alone, any of these symptoms do not usually indicate the presence of a blood clot. However, three or more clues together may signal a blood clot.
People with a blood clot do not always show signs of DVT. Statistics show that about 40% to 50% of people never show any signs of DVT until they have a PE. So, let’s talk about both.
Signs and symptoms of DVT
Leg pain and tenderness
Abrupt onset, throbbing, or cramping pain in one leg is one of the most noticeable symptoms of a blood clot. These cramps often start in the calf before spreading to the rest of the leg. Unlike a simple calf cramp, DVT leg pain will persist longer and worsen with time. The affected area is also tender when touched.
Sudden swelling in one leg, usually involving the calf that doesn’t improve with leg elevation — could also signal a blood clot in the leg. A calf swelling greater than three cm than that on the uninvolved side is one of the ten criteria used to assess the likelihood of a clot.
Redness or discoloration
As red blood cells flow through the high-pressured veins of the affected leg, they burst. As a result, the skin around the affected area becomes red or discolored.
Affected skin feels warm
The affected area may also feel warm when touched. Just like discoloration, warmth is also due to impaired blood flow.
Denting (pitting) edema of the involved leg
Edema is swelling due to excess fluid retention. It is of two types: pitting and non-pitting. Pitting edema doesn’t go away when you press the swollen (edematous) area, causing a “pit” or indentation to form.
Pitting edema also represents one of the risk assessment tools for a blood clot.
- There’s a network of vessels draining a white-colored fluid called lymph throughout your body.
- These lymphatic vessels return the fluid to the venous system.
- Any blockage in your deep venous system will prevent lymph vessels from pumping the fluid against gravity, creating pressure and build-up.
Engorged, sore varicose veins
Varicose veins are bulging superficial veins that form near the surface of your skin, unlike DVT clot that affects the deep leg veins. A 2018 JAMA study showed a five times greater risk of developing a DVT in patients with varicose veins. The following varicose vein changes may signal a blood clot:
- The vein suddenly hardens.
- The skin around a varicose vein becomes warm, red, and tender.
- Worsening pain in your calf, foot, or leg.
- Sudden leg fatigue.
Symptoms of PE
Symptoms of PE are also a red flag for a blood clot. These include:
- Sudden shortness of breath.
- Chest pain that worsens when you inhale.
- Pounding heartbeat.
- Coughing up blood.
Signs of a blood clot in the arm
A blood clot is rare in the arms but can happen in 11% to 14% of all DVT cases. Signs of a blood clot in the arm include:
- Severe entire arm swelling.
- Localized arm swelling or edema.
- Pain, tenderness, or cramping unrelated to any injury.
- Skin that’s warm to the touch.
- Reddish or discolored skin with dilated (engorged) veins.
- Bluish or slightly purplish tint to the skin of your arm — secondary to the obstruction caused by the blood clot.
- Weakness or paralysis in the affected arm.