DVT Symptoms

Deep vein thrombosis, referred to as DVT, is the formation of a clot in one of the body’s deep blood vessels. Commonly formed in the legs, DVTs can develop in the arms. Risk factors for the development of DVT include immobility, smoking and obesity. Life threatening complications occur from DVT when the clot breaks free and travels to another part of the body such as the lungs or brain. Symptom recognition proves crucial to survival.

Calf Tenderness

The Society of International Radiation explains that symptoms of DVT may not be apparent in all patients. However, calf tenderness or pain prove a common symptom experienced. Often the initial symptom, a person may report calf pain that gradually becomes worse. The pain becomes more noticeable when flexing the great toe or foot on the affected leg; this is called a positive Homan’s sign. Do not massage the calf to try to alleviate this pain otherwise you might dislodge the clot. See a doctor.


Swelling proves a frequent DVT symptom. When a clot has formed in one of the deep larger veins of the lower leg blood cannot return to the heart properly through that vessel. Blood begins to pool in the affected extremity leading to swelling called edema. If the blood clot has formed in an upper extremity, swelling may form in the affected arm and neck.

Warm Discolored Skin

The skin of a DVT affected extremity will become very warm to the touch. This occurs because of the edema collecting as a result of the decreased blood flow from that area. In addition to the heat, the skin will also become discolored. Smaller veins in the area will become engorged (filled and swollen) with blood and become visible through the skin. A red or purplish discoloration will occur. If left untreated, these smaller veins may rupture and form ulcers.

Shortness of Breath

An article published in the American Heart Association’s “Circulation” journal emphasized that the first presenting sign of a DVT could be shortness of breath. This symptom occurs because the clot that formed broke off and traveled to the lungs before the person ever realized he had a DVT. A DVT that travels to the lungs is called a pulmonary embolism. PE contributes to approximately 200,000 deaths each year in the United States. One in every 100 people who develop a DVT will die from the complication of PE. The first presenting symptom will be shortness of breath. Cough, pain in the chest and pink frothy sputum may follow. You should seek medical care immediately if these symptoms occur.

About this Author

Patricia Nevins is a registered nurse with nearly 20 years of nursing experience. She obtained her Master of Science in nursing with a focus in education from the University of Phoenix. Nevins shares her passion for healthy living through her roles as educator, nursing consultant and writer.