How can I tell if I have a DVT?

Doctor examining woman's calf
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Question: How can I tell if I have a DVT?

A deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot in a vein deep below the surface of the skin. The clots can develop anywhere in the body but usually occur in the legs. If a DVT breaks loose and travels to the lungs, it is called a pulmonary embolism (PE). A PE is a potentially fatal condition and the reason DVT is so scary in the first place. DVT can happen spontaneously or after surgery.

DVT is more likely to happen with lack of movement and is more common when stuck in bed or on a plane for long periods. DVT can also be associated with injury -- even minor ones.


It can be hard to recognize a DVT; many of the symptoms resemble other conditions. If you think you may have a DVT, call your doctor immediately. If you think you're having a PE, Call 911.

Symptoms of Deep Vein Thrombosis

  • Swelling in an arm or leg, or along a vein
  • Pain or tenderness in the leg, which may only be felt when standing or walking
  • Increased warmth in the area that's swollen or painful
  • Redness or purple coloring on the skin near the swelling or tenderness

Symptoms of Pulmonary Embolism

  • Unexplained shortness of breath
  • Rapid breathing and fast heart rate (pulse)
  • Pain when taking a deep breath
  • Coughing up blood

Unfortunately, sometimes the first indication of a DVT is when it develops into a PE.


"What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Deep Vein Thrombosis?." National Heart Lung and Blood Institute: Diseases and conditions index.

NHLBI/NIH. Retrieved 28 Jan 2008.

van Stralen, K.J., F.R. Rosendaal and C.J. Doggen. "Minor injuries as a risk factor for venous thrombosis." Archives of internal medicine. 14 Jan 2008. PMID: 18195191.

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