Pain is your body’s first alert system. However, some potentially deadly conditions often occur without any pain at all. Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is one such condition. DVT can happen when a blood clot forms in a vein located deep in the body, usually in the leg. DVT becomes life-threatening when a blood clot breaks free from the vein and travels to the lungs, where it can cause a pulmonary embolism (PE) and block blood flow.
According to WebMD, approximately 900,000 Americans a year experience DVT and 100,000 of those with the condition die from it. About half the people with DVT experience no warning signs. So for those people, the answer is no, deep vein thrombosis doesn’t always hurt. However, for just as many people, there are several symptoms to watch out for including:
- Unexplained leg swelling below the knee. This is the most common DVT symptom, especially occurring in just one leg.
- Pain and tenderness in the affected area.
- Warmth in the area experiencing pain.
- Skin that appears reddish or bluish.
- Enlarged veins.
- Symptoms worsen over time, rather than improve as they would with a muscle strain.
To determine if you have DVT, your doctor may perform a physical examination to look for signs and symptoms such as pain and swelling. Your doctor will also most likely perform an ultrasound, a form of imaging which can reveal the size and location of any clots. This is usually done on both legs as a precaution. If the results of the ultrasound aren’t clear, venography may be performed. This test involves injecting dye into the affected vein which makes the clot visible on an x-ray. Finally, your doctor may order a blood test called a d-Dimer, which detects a substance released after a clot breaks up.
The most common types of vein treatment for DVT include:
- Medication. Anticoagulants increase the time it takes for your blood to clot, making it more difficult for clots to form.
- Compression stockings. These stockings prevent blood from pooling in your legs and forming new clots.
- Inferior vena cava (IVC) filter. This filter in the body’s largest vein helps catch large clots before they can move to your lungs.
In extreme cases, medication may be used to break up the clot but often cases can be managed without doing so.
Risk Factors and Prevention
While some people with DVT have no risk factors, there certain things that increase your risk for DVT such as:
- Sitting for long periods of time.
- Taking oral contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy.
- Injury or trauma to a vein.
- Serious health conditions such as cancer, heart disease or irritable bowel disease.
- Inherited blood disorders.
Taking steps to maintain good vein health such as exercising regularly, not smoking and maintaining a healthy weight can help to prevent your chances of developing vein problems. When in doubt, always consult with a medical professional.