What are the symptoms of DVT?

DVT usually occurs in a leg or, less often, in an arm. Sometimes a clot is small or only partially obstructs a blood vessel, and there are no symptoms. The classic symptoms, however, are pain, swelling, tenderness to the touch along the course of the vein, redness, or, in some cases, even bluish discoloration of the affected arm or leg. It is possible to have these symptoms without having DVT. In fact, a diagnosis of DVT is confirmed in only 25 percent of such cases. Other conditions that can cause the same or similar symptoms include an infection, a bruised muscle, or the rupture of one of the fluid sacs or “bursa” that cushion the tissue around the knee. The latter condition is called a ruptured Baker’s cyst.

Marvin’s story:

I have had four episodes of DVT or pulmonary embolism (PE). In retrospect, the first episode, which occurred in my right leg, was never diagnosed and eventually got better on its own.

The second episode, which was the first recognized episode, began with a severe pain in the left calf muscle. It felt much like a cramp but did not yield to any kind of manipulation. The onset came 10 days after a gastroenterologist had removed a polyp from my colon. Wondering if there might be a connection, I asked the gastroenterologist. He thought not, but suggested I see my family physician. Because my family doctor had died recently, I had to see a doctor who was not known to me—a general practitioner. When I visited him, he bent the toes of my left foot back. Because I didn’t wince, the doctor concluded the pain in my calf was not a clot but merely inflammation of the gastrocnemius muscle (a muscle in the calf), for which he prescribed a regimen of butazoladin (a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug that is no longer on the market). It did not relieve the symptoms or alter the condition.

Nonetheless, because I had been reassured that my pain was only muscle inflammation, I kept my commitments, which included an appearance on a television show. I drove 120 miles to New York City, stayed overnight, appeared for the taping, and drove home the next day. All the while, the severe pain remained untouched by pain relievers. I checked back with the gastroenterologist, and he asked me to come in immediately for an emergency visit. When he saw the swollen and painful leg, he ordered a gurney and had me transferred to the hospital, where I spent five days for the initial treatment of a DVT.

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