Blood Clot Medical Terms Made Simple

Blood Clot Medical Terms Made Simple

Doctors, nurses, and physician assistants often use medical terms to describe blood clots. As patients, you want to understand what they are saying. Here we translate common medical terms used by health care professionals into plain language.

You will hear health care professional use the term Venous Thromboembolism of VTE:

  • This is the medical term they use to refer to all blood clots.

  1. ‘Venous’ mean vein.
  2. ‘Thrombus’ means blood clot.
  3. ‘Embolism’ means ‘plug’ or ‘stopper’ or a clot that blocks blood flow.
  • VTE includes blood clots that form in your arms and/or legs, as well as the pieces that may break off and travel to your lungs.

  • Blood clots that form in your arms and legs are called deep vein thrombosis or DVT.

  • A blood clot that breaks off and travels to your lungs is called  a pulmonary embolism or PE.


Here is a short video that shows how blood clots can form in your leg.

You want to watch for these symptoms of Deep Vein Thrombosis or DVT (arm or leg clot):

  • Swelling, usually in one leg or arm
  • Leg or arm pain or tenderness
  • Reddish or bluish skin color changes
  • Leg or arm warm to touch

You want to watch for these symptoms of Pulmonary Embolism or PE (blood clot in lung):

  • Sudden shortness of breath
  • Chest pain-sharp, stabbing; may get worse with deep breath
  • Rapid resting heart rate
  • Unexplained cough, sometimes with bloody mucus

Pulmonary Embolism or PE is a life-threatening emergency. Call 911 immediately. Pulmonary embolism is fatal in about 1 out of 3 people.

Click here to learn more about blood clots and clotting disorders.