Blood clots in your leg – a condition known as deep-vein thrombosis (DVT) – can form due to a variety of reasons. While the people with the highest risk are those who lead a sedentary lifestyle, even young people who are generally healthy and fit can develop blood clots that lead to dangerous, and potentially deadly, health conditions like a pulmonary embolism or heart failure.
Risk factors for blood clotting include family history, high blood pressure, obesity, surgery, hormonal birth control pills, and long-distance travel.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Therefore, while everyone should work at minimizing their risk of developing blood clots and the health problems they can create, it’s also important to know the signs of a blood clot in case one ever forms. With that in mind, here are some of the most common symptoms to watch out for.
Sore Muscle or “Charlie Horse”
One of the reasons that so many people ignore the early warning signs of a blood clot is that they often feel just like a pulled muscle. For individuals who work out on a daily basis, it might feel like you overexerted yourself a little bit on your last leg day. For those who may be getting older and dealing with random aches and pains they haven’t had to address before, they may think the soreness is just another part of the aging process.
The thing is, pulled muscles will usually go away – or at least start to go away – after a couple days or so. Blood clots typically will not go away on their own and often require a blood thinner like Pradaxa, Xarelto or even aspirin, or possibly other medical interventions, such as an IVC filter. If a blood clot detaches, the leg pain or soreness can also move, which is another sign that it is likely not a pulled muscle.
If you have a persistent soreness in your muscles, be sure to contact your doctor, especially if that soreness starts to travel up your leg. And of course, there are other signs that you might have a blood clot.
Swelling in the Leg
Pain and soreness caused by a blood clot will often be accompanied by swelling. Again, many people may assume that this is caused by a less severe injury, such as a muscle pull, strain or cramp, and they will often use standard treatments in an attempt to cure it (rest, ice, compression, elevation, etc.).
While swelling itself may not signify a blood clot, even when coupled with muscle soreness or pain, if your leg stays swollen for more than a day or so, you should definitely get things checked out. Except in extreme circumstances, swelling will often start to subside within a day or two. Any swelling that goes on longer than that could be a sign of a blood clot or other major medical conditions.
Discoloration (Red or Blue)
When a blood clot forms, it will often block the blood flow in your veins (most commonly), which can lead to several other symptoms. One of these is discoloration, which can be bluish or purplish like a bruise, or it may be reddish and look more like inflammation or an infection.
As with other symptoms, discoloration itself may not be an indication of a blood clot. But coupled with pain and/or swelling, it definitely signifies something you should get checked out by a doctor, especially if it doesn’t go away. Your skin doesn’t normally change color for no reason.
Warmth, Itchiness or Tingling
The lack of circulation in a blocked (or partially blocked) blood vessel can cause nerves near the area of the blood clot to produce a number of different sensations. These can include:
- Warming of the skin
- General itchiness
These sensations could come and go, but more often than not with a blood clot, they will be persistent and won’t respond to typical remedies.
Increasing and Traveling Symptoms
Blood clots that form in the veins of your leg (DVT) will typically form slowly over time. This means that the symptoms described above may not come all at once, and they will likely increase in intensity over time. It is important to get the problem checked out if you notice these symptoms are getting worse.
Another sign that your blood clot could cause more trouble is if you notice the symptoms beginning to move from one part of your leg to another – typically from your lower leg to your upper leg – then seek medical attention immediately. If a blood clot breaks off and begins traveling through the body (known as a venous thromboembolism), it can cause all sorts of life-threatening conditions, including pulmonary embolism, stroke or a heart attack. These conditions are often accompanied by much more serious symptoms, such as chest pain, vomiting, a sudden shortness of breath, and an increased heart rate.
Doctors have a variety of tests they can use to diagnose blood clots, including ultrasound, the D-dimer test (a blood test for levels of a natural substance that dissolves blood clots), venography, and possibly even an MRI or CT scan.
The important thing is not to wait too long. It’s better to get your symptoms checked out and be wrong than the other way around!