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Blood clots in your leg - a condition known as deep-vein thrombosis (DVT) - can form for a variety of reasons. People who spend a lot of time sitting are at the highest risk of DVT. But even young, generally healthy people can develop blood clots. In fact, DVT risk may be higher than ever with so much of the country working from home due to COVID-19.
Blood clots in the leg can lead to potentially deadly health conditions like blood clots in the lungs (pulmonary embolism) and heart failure. Everyone can take steps to minimize the risk of developing blood clots, but it is also important to recognize the signs of clotting. With that in mind, here are five of the most common symptoms to watch out for.
1: Sore Muscle or "Charlie Horse"
Many people ignore the early warning signs of a blood clot because 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. Those who may be getting older are often dealing with random aches and pains they haven't had to address before. So 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. Clots often require a blood thinner like Pradaxa, Xarelto or even aspirin. Serious blood clots may need other medical interventions, such as an IVC filter. If a blood clot detaches, the leg pain or soreness can also move. Migration of soreness is another sign that it is likely not a pulled muscle.
If you have persistent soreness in your muscles, be sure to contact your doctor. It is especially important to seek medical help if that soreness starts to travel up your leg. And of course, there are other signs that you might have a blood clot.
2: Swelling in the Leg
Pain and soreness caused by a blood clot will often be accompanied by swelling. Many people may assume that this is caused by a less severe injury. Muscle pulls, strains or cramps often cause swelling. So people may use standard treatments in an attempt to cure it (rest, ice, compression, elevation, etc.).
Swelling itself may not signify a blood clot, even when coupled with muscle soreness or pain. However, if your leg stays swollen for more than a day or so, you should definitely see a doctor. Except in extreme circumstances, normal 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 condition.
3: Discoloration (Red or Blue)
When a blood clot forms, it will often block the blood flow in your veins (most commonly). This blockage can lead to several other symptoms. One of these is discoloration, which can be bluish or purplish like a bruise. It may also 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 warrants a doctor's visit. This is especially true if the discoloration doesn't go away like a bruise would. Your skin doesn't normally change color for no reason.
4: Warmth, Itchiness or Tingling
The lack of circulation in a blocked (or partially blocked) blood vessel can affect nearby nerves. In turn, these nerves may produce a number of different sensations. These can include:
- Warming of the skin
- General itchiness
These sensations may come and go. But more often than not with a blood clot, they will be persistent and won't respond to typical remedies.
5: 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. If they do appear, 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 moving from one part of the leg to another. Patients have described symptoms of blood clots moving from the lower leg to the upper leg. If you experience this, 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. These include:
- Pulmonary embolism (blood clot in the lungs)
- Heart attack
These conditions may come with serious symptoms, including:
- Chest pain
- Sudden shortness of breath
- Increased heart rate
Doctors have a variety of tests they can use to diagnose blood clots. They may use 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.
If you're concerned about getting medical treatment amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, there are options. Many hospitals and physician's offices offer phone screening prior to in-person visits. Your health insurance company may also have a nurse hotline you can call. Above all, it is important that you find a way to get medical help if you're experiencing symptoms of a blood clot.