Symptoms and Diagnosis of Venous Thromboembolism

doctor examining patient's leg

Venous thromboembolism (VTE) includes deep vein thrombosis (DVT), when a blood clot forms in a deep vein, usually in the leg or pelvis. And it includes pulmonary embolism (PE), when the clot breaks off and travels from the leg up to the lungs. DVT and PE are potentially serious, life-threatening conditions that require immediate medical attention.

What are the warning signs?

DVT mainly affects the large veins in the lower leg, thigh or pelvis, almost always on one side of the body at a time. The clot can block blood flow and cause:

  • Leg pain or tenderness of the thigh or calf
  • Leg swelling (edema)
  • Skin that feels warm to the touch
  • Reddish discoloration 

Pulmonary embolism can be fatal and occurs when a thrombus (blood clot) DVT breaks free from a vein wall, travels to the lungs and blocks some or all of the blood supply to the lungs, causing:

  • Unexplained shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Rapid breathing
  • Chest pain anywhere under the rib cage (may be worse with deep breathing)
  • Fast heart rate
  • Light headedness or passing out
  • Coughing, with or without blood
  • Feelings of anxiety or dread 

How is it diagnosed?

Your health care professional will diagnose VTE based on your medical history, physical exam, blood work and various imaging tests. Blood work may include a test called D-dimer, which detects clotting activity.

For DVT: ultrasound of the leg is most often used

For PE: Computed tomography pulmonary angiogram (CTPA) is most often used. Sometimes ventilation-perfusion (V/Q) lung scan is used when CTPA is not available or patient has a contraindication to CT scanning or contrast material. Both tests are able to see intravenous dyes in the arteries of the lung, looking for blockages by clots. 

Video: Signs and Symptoms of VTE

Support that lifts you up

Our online community of patients, survivors and caregivers is here to keep you going no matter the obstacles. We’ve been there, and we won’t let you do it alone.