How Do I Know If I Have A Blood Clot?

blood clotting agents flowing through a leg vein

There are different types of blood clots (also called “thrombus” or “thrombi,”) which have different signs and symptoms. A blood clot will be classified as either Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) or Pulmonary Embolism (PE), depending on the nature of the clot. The specific symptoms will often depend on whether the blood vessel is completely or partially blocked, as well as the location of the clot1. As the symptoms of each sort of clot are quite different, it is helpful to look at each type separately.

Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)

DVT occurs when a blood clot is formed in a deep vein in the body. This usually materializes in the legs and groin area, though it can sometimes affect your arm. One of the first signs that will manifest is pain or tenderness, coupled with swelling of the impacted area. This pain will often be accompanied by reddish or bluish skin discoloration, along with the tender area being unusually warm to the touch.

Many times these symptoms are described as being similar in pain to a pulled muscle or Charley horse2, but with the pain accompanied by swelling, discoloration, and warmth. If you are experiencing any or all of these conditions, you should contact a doctor.

However, about half of all DVT cases are asymptomatic3, so you could still be suffering from DVT even if you are not displaying these signs. In many cases, deep vein thrombosis is just a one-time episode, meaning that symptoms will go away when the disease is treated. However, individuals who have experienced DVT at least once are at an increased risk of further episodes throughout their life4.

Pulmonary Embolism (PE)

The most serious complication of DVT is called Pulmonary Embolism, which is responsible for anywhere from 50,000 to 200,000 deaths each year5. It is the third most common cause of cardiovascular death, only trailing heart attacks and strokes6. The complication of PE happens in over one-third of DVT patients.

PE occurs when a clot breaks off from a DVT and travels through the bloodstream through the heart to the lungs. From there, it may partially or completely block a pulmonary artery, which is why it is such a life-threatening complication. Among the symptoms of PE are: shortness of breath, quick heartbeat, sweating, and severe chest pain while breathing. In some cases, patients cough up blood, while at other times those suffering from PE may pass out due to low blood pressure7.

Often, when the pulmonary artery is completely blocked, PE can result in sudden death8. For those that do survive, there are generally not any lasting effects, as the body is usually able to lyse the blood clots. In some cases, the blood clot may fail to dissolve completely, leading to chronic shortness of breath.

If you believe you may be suffering from DVT, it is important to contact a doctor right away, as the condition can worsen into PE. If you have PE or think you may, call emergency personnel immediately, as it is often life threatening.

References

1 – Signs and Symptoms of Blood Clots, Indiana Hemophilia & Thrombosis Center, Inc. Available at: http://www.ihtc.org/patient/blood-disorders/clotting-disorders/signs-and-symptoms-of-thrombosis/ . Accessed on September 9, 2015.

2 – Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) & Pulmonary Embolism (PE). National Blood Clot Alliance. Available at: http://www.stoptheclot.org/learn_more/blood_clot_symptoms__dvt.htm . Accessed on September 9, 2015.

3 – Piazza G, Goldhaber SZ. Acute pulmonary embolism: part II: treatment and prophylaxis.Circulation. 2006;114(3):e42–7.

4 – Prandoni P, Lensing AW, Cogo A, Cuppini S, Villalta S, Carta M, et al. The long-term clinical course of acute deep venous thrombosis. Ann Intern Med. 1996;125(1):1–7.

5 – Aquila, Anne M. Deep Venous Thrombosis. Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing. July 2001, vol 15, issue 5: 25-44.

6 – 5 – Goldhaber, Samuel and Bournameaux, Henri. The Lancet. 2012 May, vol 379, issue 9828: 1835-1846.

7 – The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent Deep Vein Thrombosis and Pulmonary Embolism. US Dept of Health and Human Services, 2008.

8 – Heit JA, Silverstein MD, Mohr DN, Petterson TM, O’Fallon WM, Melton LJ 3rd. Predictors of survival after deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism: a population-based, cohort study. Arch Intern Med. 1999;159(5):445–53.

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