What are the Symptoms of Blood Clots?

Authored by The Rx Advocates, / Medically Reviewed by Dr. Conor Sheehy, PharmD, BCPS
Last Updated: October 5, 2021

Understanding the symptoms of blood clots, also known as venous thromboembolism (VTE), can help prevent serious illness, disability, and even death. Blood clots can occur to anybody and across all age groups.   

Symptoms and signs of blood clots can vary depending on the location and size of the clot. The clot can be in the vein or artery.  

There are three types of conditions related to blood clots, deep vein thrombosis (DVT), superficial venous, and pulmonary embolism (PE). These three different types of blood clots cause different symptoms and can vary in severity.   

The symptoms of blood clots should not be ignored and should be followed up with your doctor.

 

Who is at Risk for Blood Clots?

Some people are more at risk for developing blood clots. Blood clots are more common as people get older, especially over the age of 65.   

Other factors that can increase risk include:

  • Staying in the hospital for an extended period
  • Surgery
  • Trauma that includes the lower extremities or head
  • Taking birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy.
  • Pregnancy
  • Having cancer or being treated for cancer.
  • Family history of blood clots.
  • COVID-19
  • Obesity
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Smoking cigarettes

 

What are Blood Clots?

Blood clots are a collection of blood that is gel-like in form. They form in the veins or arteries where the blood changes from liquid to partially solid. Blood clots naturally form to help with healing damaged vessels and skin.  

Clotting is a normal function, but when the clot forms in a place that does not dissolve on its own, the clot becomes dangerous.

There are three types of medical conditions related to blood clots, as previously mentioned. Each of these blood clots have different symptoms, which can indicate medical treatment is necessary.

Regardless of what type of blood clot symptom is experienced or noticed, proper steps can be taken to reduce the risk of dangerous complications.

 

Deep Vein Thrombosis

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot located in a deep vein, usually in the legs or arms.  

DVT can also occur after surgery, an accident, being on bed rest, or traveling long distances without movement of the limbs.

DVT can be serious because blood clots in the vein can break loose, and travel through the bloodstream. The blood clot can get stuck in your lungs, block the blood flow and cause another type of blood clot called pulmonary embolism, which will be discussed later. 

 

What are the Symptoms of DVT?

Symptoms of DVT can be similar to other health problems, and due to the nature of where the blood clot is located, there might be no symptoms at all.  

The most common symptoms of DVT include:

  • Swelling in the affected leg. Rarely, there’s swelling in both legs.
  • Pain in your leg. The pain often starts in your calf and can feel like cramping or soreness.
  • Red or discolored skin on the leg.
  • A feeling of warmth in the affected leg.

If these symptoms occur, a doctor should be contacted immediately. The doctor will ask about the symptoms and may ask for a physical exam to check for any swelling, tenderness, or changes in skin color.  

Diagnosis can be performed to see if a blood clot is present.  These tests include:

  • D-Dimer Blood test, which looks for a type of protein produced in blood clots
  • Duplex ultrasound, which uses sound waves to see how blood flows through the veins.
  • Venography is rarely performed because it injects a dye in the foot or ankle and then an X-Ray is taken to see if a clot in the lower extremities.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) which can look for blood clots in the abdomen.  

 

Superficial Venous Thrombosis

Superficial venous thrombosis is also known as superficial thrombophlebitis and occurs in a vein just underneath the skin.  It can occur in legs, groins or in the arms. 

Superficial venous thrombosis in the legs results in varicose veins, but typically the clot does not break off and travel to other parts of the body. This can be painful and treatment might be needed.  

 

What are the Symptoms of Superficial Venous Thrombosis?

The most common symptoms of Superficial Venous include:

  • Pain and swelling that develops rapidly in the area of inflammation.
  • The skin over the vein becomes red, and the area feels warm and tender.
  • The vein feels like a hard cord under the skin.
  • The vein may feel hard along the entire length.

Doctors can recognize this by what it looks like on the skin.  Tests are usually not needed for Superficial Venous Thrombosis unless it develops above the knee and not near any varicose veins.  If this occurs the doctors will do an ultrasonography to see if a blood clot is present.

 

Pulmonary Embolism

Pulmonary embolism is a blood clot that occurs in the lung that comes from another area of the body, usually the leg or arm. The clot moves through the bloodstream and becomes lodged in the blood vessel of the lungs. These blood clots typically come from the deep veins in the legs and are called a deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

When this occurs, the blood flow to the lungs is restricted, which  causes oxygen levels to decrease, and the blood pressure in the pulmonary arteries to increase. 

 

What are the Symptoms of Pulmonary Embolism?

Symptoms of this type of clot will vary and some people do not exhibit any symptoms.  The first sign is often shortness of breath and chest pain.   

Other symptoms include:

  • Sudden shortness of breath that occurs if active or just at rest.
  • Sudden sharp pain in the chest, arm, shoulder, neck or jaw.
  • A cough with or without bloody mucus.
  • Rapid heartbeat or pulse.
  • Clammy, pale, or bluish-colored skin.
  • Excessive sweating. 
  • Wheezing.
  • One might feel anxious, light headed, faint or even pass out.

 If these symptoms are experienced, medical attention is needed immediately.

Diagnosis of pulmonary embolism by a doctor might include:

  • CTPA uses contrast to analyze blood vessels
  • D-Dimer test to look for byproducts of blood clots
  • Chest X-ray of heart and lungs.
  • Pulmonary VQ scan to look at air- and blood-flow in the lungs.
  • Ultrasound of the legs to look at blood flow speed.
  • Spiral CT scan, a type of 3D scan
  • Electrocardiogram to look at the heart activity
  • Pulmonary angiography to see if there are clots in the lung.

 

Treatments for Blood Clots

There are several different medications to treat blood clots. These include anticoagulants, which are taken orally or by injection. There are also non-medication treatments.

Injectables Include:

  • Unfractionated heparin (UFH)
  • Low molecular weight heparin (LMWH):
  • Lovenox (enoxaparin)
  • Fragmin (dalteparin)
  • Arixtra (fondaparinux)

Oral Medications Include:

There are treatments without medication as well depending on doctor recommendations.  These include:

Over the counter medications include aspirin. 

 

Get Help Paying for your Blood Clot Medication through The Rx Advocates

At The Rx Advocates, we offer financial assistance to people who are struggling to afford their monthly medication costs. If you take monthly medications for blood clotting, you may have noticed how expensive these drugs are for you. The RX Advocates can help with their program.

Blood Clots can be a serious health condition and it should not be ignored. Contact us to learn how you could get help getting the cost of your blood clot medication covered.

 

Sources:

The CDC. Impact of Blood Clots

https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/dvt/infographic-impact.html 

Cleveland Clinic. Blood Clots: Risk, Symptoms, Treatments, Prevention

https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17675-blood-clots 

Mayo Clinic. Deep Vein Thrombosis

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/deep-vein-thrombosis/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20352563 

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