Signs and symptoms of a Blood Clot in the Leg

A person experiencing symptoms of pain due to a blood clot in their calf

Even with the best preparation, blood clot formation in the deep veins of the legs is always a possibility.

Below is a list of the most common symptoms associated with an acute DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis).

Stop and seek medical attention immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Sudden onset of leg pain: This will usually begin as a dull ache which can progress to more intense pain.
  • Leg cramping: e.g. “a charlie horse”.
  • Sudden onset of fatigue and heaviness of the legs.
  • Change in skin color: Bluish or reddish discoloration of the skin. This can occur in large patches or as isolated spots.
  • Unusual skin warmth
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Swelling

It’s possible to form a blood clot without experiencing any symptoms. This is known as a silent clot. This is the single biggest reason why preventative measures are highly recommended while traveling. This holds especially true for individuals at higher risk.

Blood clots are avoidable, and vein problems shouldn’t interfere with your travel plans. If you’re in good overall health, simply take proper precautions and chances are that you’ll be fine. If you’re at high risk of clot formation, however, it’s best to seek professional advice before long-distance travel. Contact the Advanced Vein Center today at (724) 987-3220 to book an appointment.

What are Blood Clots and Why are They Such a Big Issue?

Clots are clumps of proteins and other cells in your blood that are bound together. A clot’s purpose is to help slow the bleeding when you become injured. Clots typically dissolve as the wound heals. If for some reason it does not dissolve, or if one forms when there is no injury, it can either partially or completely block a blood vessel. When this happens it is called a blood clot.

When clots form unexpectedly, they can lead to serious health conditions and even death. If a clots reaches an artery, it can cause a stroke or a heart attack. If a blood clot forms in a vein in your leg, you will notice pain and swelling. Clots that form deep inside your body are called a deep vein thrombosis (DVT). If a DVT moves to your lungs is called a pulmonary embolism (PE). All of these are medical emergencies.

A bundle of cigarettes referencing that blood clots are life threatening

Why are Blood Clots Life-Threatening?

Clotting is a protective response that prevents excessive blood loss in the event of a cut or other trauma. Unless you’ve got a clotting issue like hemophilia, it’s something that happens in just the right amount, whenever you need it.

Sometimes, however, the clotting response itself can create problems. When blood slows down in the larger veins of the body large clots may form. These are known as thrombi (singular = thrombosis), and most often occurs in the leg veins.

These blood clots most often dissolve on their own, but not always. In rare instances, they can break loose and become what is known as a Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT). If mobile clots make their way to your organs, severe damage is possible, particularly if this happens in the lungs. This is known as a pulmonary embolism (PE), and the results can be life-threatening.

Every year in America, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that between 70,000 and 90,000 adults die of Pulmonary Embolism. Many more experience clots which don’t result in PEs, but can still cause significant medical issues.

Which Factors Increase the Risk of a DVT?

Theoretically, anyone can develop a DVT or PE. In practice, however, most of the individuals that develop this condition have one or more of the following circumstances:

  • A family history of DVT or other pathological blood clot abnormality
  • Being 40 years old or older
  • Smoking cigarettes or other tobacco use
  • Obesity or being overweight as defined by a Body Mass Index (BMI) of greater than 30
  • Having some form of cancer or a past history of cancer
  • Being pregnant or having a recent history of being pregnant
  • Long periods of immobility. This includes travel via plane, train, bus, or automobile or being immobilized or on bed rest
  • Recently had surgery
  • Are in a wheelchair
  • Suffer from high cholesterol
  • Are diabetic

If you have any of the risk factors for a blood clot, then you should be on the lookout for signs that you may have one. 

Many large, high quality studies have shown that the risk of forming DVTs goes up dramatically with long-distance travel. Specifically, this refers to trips lasting longer than 4 hours. This happens as a direct result of not moving the legs for extended periods of time.

The good news is that blood clots are preventable.

Blood Clot Prevention Tips

According to the CDC, the following are the best methods of avoiding dangerous clotting events while traveling.

Move around every 60 minutes.

Minimal activity is all that’s required to prevent blood clots. If you’re getting up out of a seated position and moving your legs, walking up and down the plane or bus aisle, it’s enough to keep blood circulating.

While driving for long distances make several brief stops to stretch your legs. Walking to and from a rest stop bathroom will help keep your blood moving.

Remember to stretch.

Simple stretches, whether done standing or seated, are very beneficial. This minimal effort will drastically reduce your chances of forming blood clots.

The following stretches fit easily into any travel plan.

  • While seated or standing, place either leg directly in front of you. Flex the toes up, then point them forward, working the ankle through its full range of motion. Do this 10 times in both directions.
  • While seated roll the ankle around in a circle. Perform this 10 times in each direction.
  • While seated pull your knees up to your chest. Hug them for about 15 seconds, then straighten them again. Repeat this motion 10 times.
  • If you have enough room, stretch your legs out in front of you.
  • While seated or standing, alternately press the heel and ball of the foot against the ground. Aim to work the large muscles of the thigh (quadriceps) and calf muscles. Repeat this exercise multiple times throughout the trip.

Get Thinner

Weight gain and the increased vascular pressure that results from carrying excess weight on your body might cause blood clots. You can relieve some of the pressure on your veins and lessen your risk of blood clots by reducing weight and keeping it off.

Massage both legs.

Pack a tennis ball or a specially made hand massage device with you. Whenever you get the opportunity, manually massage each leg, both the thighs and calves, with the “massager” for about a minute. According to phlebology experts, it’s an excellent way to prevent clot formation.

Compression Stocking can make a big difference.

Wear high-quality, prescription compression stockings when traveling long distances. These should be thigh-high, graduated compression stockings that provide more compression towards the feet than at the thighs which helps the blood keep moving. Avoid less-expensive drug-store varieties, which are not effective in preventing blood clots.

A person preventing blood clots by exercising.

Skip the tight clothing.

Your compression garments should be the only tight article of clothing you wear while traveling.

Loose-fitting clothing is not only more comfortable but won’t restrict your lower body circulation.

Blood Clot Prevention While Traveling

Everybody loves a good vacation! Travel provides a welcome break from the routine and provides memories that will last a lifetime. For many, it’s a big part of living life to the fullest. Regardless of how you view travel, it’s not something you should shy away from due to medical problems.

However, if you’ve got chronic leg vein problems, getting there may not be half the fun. Chronic vein disease can be made worse by travel, but there are several simple steps you can take to avoid problems.

Traveling is known to dramatically increase the chances of developing blood clots in susceptible individuals. These clotting issues are serious medical issues. In rare cases, they can be fatal.

Taking the proper precautions will free your mind to focus on your trip, not on potential blood clots.

If you’ve got multiple clotting risk factors or a history of DVTs or PEs, talk with your doctor before traveling. They may suggest temporarily prescribing a blood thinner. Take as directed, usually two hours before embarking on your trip.

Symptoms of Clotting in Areas Other than the Legs

Clotting can happen anywhere in the body. When a clot forms it inhibits the flow of blood This can cut off the oxygen supply and damage the surrounding tissue. Depending on where the clot is located you may notice different symptoms. If the flow of oxygen is cut to organs such as the lung or heart, it will cause life-threatening conditions that should not be ignored. 

Blood Clots in the Lungs

If a clot forms in the lungs, or more commonly forms elsewhere and then moves into the lung it can produce a pulmonary embolism or PE.

A PE will bring on:

  • a quickened pulse, 
  • chest pain, 
  • bloody cough,
  • shortness of breath. 

Call 9-1-1 right away if you or someone you love, experiences any of the above warning signs.

Blood Clots in the Heart

A heart attack is caused by clotting in the heart and is one of the leading causes of death in people over 40 years of age.

When blood it stopped from properly flowing in the heart, the heart muscle will start to die. It is imperative that you get to a hospital right away. A heart attack may feel similar to a pulmonary embolism caused by a clot in the lung. However during a heart attack, you will often get nauseous and lightheaded in addition to feeling chest pain. Additionally, pain or numbness may radiate into the left arm and shoulder.

It is essential that you get to a hospital or call 9-1-1 right away.

Blood Clots in the Brain

Clotting does not typically start in the brain unless there was an incidence of head trauma. In most cases the clot forms elsewhere and then is transported via the bloodstream to the brain. When a clot impedes normal blood flow, pressure will build up behind the clot. If a severe blockage is located in the brain, it may lead to a stroke. Your brain cells will start to die within minutes without oxygen from the blood. After this occurs your mental capacities will be impaired. You may notice a quick onset of a headache, seizures, confusion, weakness and speech problems. These symptoms may occur only on one side of the body.

Blood Clots in the Stomach

When clotting occurs in the abdomen, symptoms can be harder to detect. Often no warning signs are present. If a vein becomes blocked in the esophagus or stomach, the vein can rupture under the pressure, allowing blood to escape into the stomach. A rupture can be exceptionally painful. You may notice blood in your stool, it may look black in color and smell bad. You may also start to vomit blood.

Blood Clots in the Kidneys

Clots in the kidneys usually develop slowly and are most common in adults. This condition, also called renal vein thrombosis, does not normally demonstrate symptoms unless the clot breaks off and moves into your lung. In very rare cases, the clots have been known to develop quickly, causing nausea, fever, and vomiting. This type of quick-onset renal vein thrombosis is more common in children. You may notice blood in your urine. You might also have to urinate less frequently. 

Can travel, like long flights, increase the risk of blood clots?

Yes, long flights can increase the risk of blood clots due to prolonged immobility. Sitting for extended periods, especially in cramped spaces, can slow blood circulation, leading to blood pooling in the legs and increasing the likelihood of clot formation. Dehydration and cabin pressure changes further contribute to clot risk. Individuals with existing risk factors, such as obesity or a history of blood clots, are particularly vulnerable. To mitigate this risk, stay hydrated, move your legs periodically, perform in-seat exercises, and consider wearing compression stockings. If you have concerns, consult a healthcare provider before travel.

Can blood clots be life-threatening?

Yes, blood clots can be life-threatening. When a blood clot forms in a deep vein (deep vein thrombosis or DVT), it has the potential to break loose and travel to the lungs, causing a blockage known as pulmonary embolism (PE). PE can be fatal if not treated promptly. Blood clots that form in the brain can cause strokes, while clots in the heart can lead to heart attacks. Timely diagnosis and appropriate treatment are crucial to prevent serious complications. Recognizing risk factors, staying active, and seeking medical attention if symptoms arise can help mitigate these life-threatening risks.

What are the potential complications of untreated blood clots?

Untreated blood clots can lead to serious complications. A clot in the deep veins (DVT) can break off and travel to the lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism (PE) that obstructs blood flow, potentially leading to respiratory failure or death. Clots that reach the brain can result in strokes, while those in the heart can cause heart attacks. Chronic venous insufficiency, pain, and swelling can occur in untreated leg clots. Long-term complications may include post-thrombotic syndrome, characterized by pain and swelling in the affected leg. Timely diagnosis, medical intervention, and preventive measures are crucial to avoid these potentially life-threatening complications.

Blood Clot FAQ

When a clot creates a stoppage of blood in your legs or arms, your skin may turn slightly blue or red. Your skin may stay this color if there is permanent damage to the blood vessels. A Pulmonary Embolism in your lungs can cause your skin to become pale, bluish, and clammy.

If you have a clot in your lung or in your heart, you may experience breathing difficulties. Your heartbeat may race, your skin may become clammy or sweaty or you may faint.

All of these are VERY SERIOUS medical symptoms. 

You should seek medical help immediately. 

A clot will often cause pain where it is located. Clots can form in many places, even places that usually are not known for having blood clots. For example, you can have a blood clot in your arm.

Sudden intense pain, especially in the chest, may mean that the clot has broken loose and caused a clot in your lung or heart.

This occurrence is a medical emergency and you should seek immediate medical help.

When a blood clot forms, it can slow or stop the flow of blood in your veins or arteries (similar to a dam in a river or stream.) This will cause a buildup of blood upstream from the clot. The bigger the clot, the more blood will pool above it, causing increased pressure in the blood vessel causing it to swell. If swelling occurs in the calf or lower leg, it can be a sign of DVT.

Blood clots can form in almost any part of your body, not just in your legs. Clots can form in the arms and the abdomen as well as other places. Clots can cause permanent damage to the blood vessels. Because of this, you may still suffer from swelling, pain, and sores even after the blood clot is resolved.