Is It DVT or Something Else? (2024)

You may have DVT, deep vein thrombosis, if you notice that one limb is swollen, painful, warm, and red. But many other things can cause similar symptoms. Some of them, like minor cuts, fractures, or sprains, are relatively harmless, and others are more serious. You’ll need to see a doctor to find out what’s going on and what treatment is needed. Learn about some of these conditions below.

Deep Vein Thrombosis

You can get DVT at any age, and several things can cause it. Some of them are:

  • Injury to a vein
  • Anything that immobilizes you, such as bed rest, hospitalization, recovery from an injury
  • Paralysis
  • Birth control pills
  • Hormone replacement therapy
  • Pregnancy
  • Chronic diseases like heart disease, lung disease, cancer, Crohn’s disease, or ulcerative colitis
  • Family history of DVT or pulmonary embolism
  • Obesity
  • Surgery
  • A blood clotting disease that you inherit

DVT normally affects just one leg. Symptoms include:

  • Unequal swelling, where one leg is larger than the other
  • Pain or tenderness when you stand or walk
  • Warmth
  • Red or discolored skin

About half of people who get DVT won’t have any signs. You may not know you have a clot unless a piece of it breaks off and travels to your lung. That’s a medical emergency called a pulmonary embolism. Call 911 right away if you have:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain when you take a deep breath
  • Coughing up blood
  • Racing heart rate
  • Rapid breathing

Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)

You get this when the arteries in your legs become hard and narrow. In PAD, plaque builds up in the arteries. Over time, it can block blood flow to your arms and legs. When this condition affects veins instead of arteries, it’s called peripheral vascular disease (PVD).

Some of the symptoms are:

  • Pain, numbness, aching, or heaviness in your legs when you walk
  • Cramps in your feet, leg, or butt
  • Sores or wounds on your feet or legs that don’t get better
  • Pale or bluish-colored skin
  • One leg feels cooler than the other.

PAD isn’t a medical emergency, but lack of blood flow to your legs can cause serious problems like gangrene. That’s when the tissue in your leg dies.

You’ll also have a greater risk for heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. But when you make changes to manage your condition, you’ll lower your chances of getting those, too. The same risks that lead to heart attacks and strokes also cause PAD. They include smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

Varicose Veins

Unlike DVT, these appear just beneath the surface of your skin. You get them when the valves inside your veins become weak or damaged. Normally, the valves help blood flow to your heart. When they don’t work right, blood pools inside your veins. They swell and become large and rope-like. That’s another difference from DVT -- the surface-level clots that come with varicose veins are uncommon and don’t usually break free and travel to your lungs. When DVTs do this, it’s called a pulmonary embolism, and it can be fatal.

If you have varicose veins, you’ll notice:

  • Swollen ankles and feet
  • Throbbing or cramping in your legs
  • Itchy lower legs or ankles
  • Achy, painful legs
  • Heaviness in your legs

Varicose veins aren’t serious. Talk to your doctor about treatments.

Spider Veins

These are a smaller type of varicose veins. They affect your capillaries, the smallest blood vessels in your body.

You’re most likely to get these on your legs or face. They look like a spider web or the branches on a tree. They’re usually a blue or reddish color. You may not like how they look, but they don’t cause any medical problems.

And because they’re like varicose veins, spider veins also differ from DVT because they’re close to the surface and don’t tend to break free and move into your lungs.


Here, bacteria infect the skin. The first signs can mirror DVT, with skin that’s red, swollen, warm, and sensitive to the touch. Other possible symptoms, like chills, fever, nausea, drowsiness, and trouble thinking, are less likely in DVT. The same goes for the red streaks, bumps, or sores that might appear on your skin.

Get care right away if you notice these signs, because it can be very serious if you don’t treat it.


It’s inflammation of the blood vessels. This can lessen essential blood flow to your organs and other tissue. There are almost 20 versions of the disease, but all seem to happen when your immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue (autoimmune disease). Doctors don’t know exactly what causes it, though possible triggers appear to include genes, medication, infection, environment, allergies, and other illnesses.

Symptoms vary by person and the type of disease, but may include:

  • Rashes or skin lesions (more than just the swelling and darkening in DVT)
  • Pain: Aches in your muscles, belly, joints, or head (uncommon in DVT except in affected limb)
  • Lack of appetite and weight loss (uncommon in DVT)
  • Tiredness and fever (uncommon in DVT)
  • Blurry vision, eye pain, and redness (uncommon in DVT)
  • Ear or sinus problems that don’t go away (uncommon in DVT)
  • Shortness of breath and coughing (could cough up blood)
  • Tingling, numbness, weakness, and nerve pain (neuropathy) (uncommon in DVT)
  • Bloody or dark-colored urine (could be kidney problems) (uncommon in DVT)

Acute Arterial Occlusion

It means a blocked artery, and it typically happens in a previously open blood vessel that shows signs of plaque (atherosclerosis) or other damage, or that doctors previously repaired with a stent or graft.

The artery becomes blocked in one of two ways:

  • It slowly narrows to a close as plaque builds up
  • Tiny networks of blood vessels in the plaqued walls of an artery tear, and the blood and fluid form a clot.

Symptoms include:

  • Pain in the affected limb gets gradually worse and spreads slowly toward the trunk of your body. (DVT pain tends to center on thrombosis.)
  • The skin of the limb is typically cool to the touch. (DVT typically warms the skin.)
  • Skin looks pale and patchy because of lack of blood supply to the skin’s surface. (DVT typically reddens skin.)
  • Skin can blister as the condition worsens. (uncommon in DVT)
  • You and your doctor may not be able to feel a normal pulse in the affected limb. (uncommon in DVT)
  • Burning or prickling sensation, typically in the legs, feet, hand or arms (possible, but uncommon, in DVT)

Necrotizing Fasciitis

Also known as “flesh-eating disease,” it’s a life-threatening infection that spreads quickly and kills the body’s soft tissue (muscle, fat, and tissue connecting muscle to bone). Injury or surgery can create a break in the skin that may lead to infection if the right bacteria are around.

If you're healthy, have a strong immune system you’re unlikely to get it. It’s treated with antibiotics through a vein, along with surgical removal of infected tissue. Early symptoms can include:

  • An area of skin where redness, warmth, or swelling spreads quickly
  • Serious pain, including beyond the skin obviously affected
  • Fever (uncommon in DVT)

Later symptoms might include:

  • Changes in skin color
  • Blisters or black spots on skin (uncommon in DVT)
  • Liquid or pus oozing from sores (uncommon in DVT)
  • Tiredness, dizziness, diarrhea, or nausea

Nephrotic Syndrome

It’s a kidney illness that causes your body to pass too much protein when you pee. It’s typically due to damage to the tiny blood vessels in your kidneys (glomeruli) that filter waste and extra fluid from your blood. A number of conditions can cause this damage, including diabetic kidney disease, amyloidosis, glomerulosclerosis, and lupus. Typical symptoms include:

  • Swelling from fluid buildup (edema), especially around ankles, feet, and eyes, often on both sides (instead of just one in DVT)
  • Foamy urine, a result of excess protein in your urine (uncommon in DVT)
  • Weight gain due to fluid retention (uncommon in DVT)
  • Tiredness (uncommon in DVT)
  • Loss of appetite (uncommon in DVT)

Congestive Heart Failure

Heart failure means the heart doesn’t pump as well as it should. Congestive heart failure (CHF) is a type that happens when blood flows too slowly out of the heart. This causes a backup of the blood trying to return to the heart and lungs for more oxygen.

The pressure causes a buildup of fluid (edema) that can collect, most often in the legs and ankles, but other areas as well. CHF also could increase the work of your kidneys, which often leads to edema. The swelling could mirror DVT, but it typically happens in both legs instead of just one as in DVT.

Fluid that collects in the lungs (pulmonary edema) can cause shortness of breath that mirrors the symptoms of a pulmonary embolism that can happen with DVT. Symptoms typically worsen when you lie down.


It typically happens when doctors remove or damage one or more of your lymph nodes -- small glands that help get rid of fluid, waste, and germs -- as part of cancer treatment. This stops fluid from draining, and that causes arms, legs, feet, and other areas to swell. There’s no cure, but your doctor can help you manage it with movement exercises, massage, and bandages that push on swollen areas.

As with DVT, lymphedema often causes swelling or tightness in all or part of an affected limb. Also like DVT, symptoms are sometimes so mild that you don’t notice. Unlike DVT, the swelling can often include your fingers or toes. Other symptoms include:

  • A feeling of heaviness in affected legs (uncommon in DVT)
  • A hard time moving as freely
  • A general aching or discomfort (DVT pain tends to center on a specific area)
  • Infections that repeat (uncommon in DVT)
  • Skin that hardens and thickens (fibrosis)

Venous Stasis

It’s when blood pools in the veins. It happens when the valves in your veins stop working properly, so the blood moves backward and collects. This pushes fluid into nearby tissue, which can cause swelling and irritation that looks like DVT. Over time, this inflammation can start to break down tissue and lead to sores or “ulcers” on the surface of the skin (uncommon in DVT).

You may feel full, achy, and tired in your legs, and it may get worse when you stand. You also might notice varicose veins on the skin of your legs.

Acute Compartment Syndrome

Your muscles group together in your arm, leg, hand, or foot, along with blood vessels and nerves. Each group is enclosed in tissue (fascia), and together, they make up a “compartment.”

When the pressure builds up inside one of these compartments, it can cause swelling and tenderness that mirror symptoms of DVT. Unlike DVT, acute compartment syndrome typically happens soon after a sudden injury like a fracture. Other possible causes include a serious burn that scars skin or surgery to repair a blocked blood vessel. You may also notice:

  • Tightness in affected muscle
  • Intense pain, especially if you stretch muscle (more than expected for injury)
  • Tingling or burning feeling
  • Numbness or weakness (may be signs of permanent damage)

Acute compartment syndrome is a medical emergency and requires treatment right away.

Superficial Thrombophlebitis

This happens when a blood clot forms in a vein just under your skin. If you have it, you may have:

  • Swelling
  • Pain
  • Tenderness
  • Warmth
  • Redness

These symptoms are much like those of DVT, but unlike a DVT, it happens close to the surface, not deep within your body.

About 20% of people who have this condition also get a blood clot in their leg. Call your doctor if you notice anything unusual. They’ll check to see what's going on.

Is It DVT or Something Else? (2024)


What can mimic DVT symptoms? ›

For example, muscle injury, cellulitis (a bacterial skin infection), and inflammation (swelling) of veins that are just under the skin can mimic the signs and symptoms of DVT. It is important to know that heart attack and pneumonia can have signs and symptoms similar to those of PE.

What is often mistaken for a blood clot? ›

Medical conditions that have symptoms similar to DVT blood clots include: Peripheral artery disease. Varicose veins and spider veins. Cellulitis.

Is it a DVT or not? ›

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) symptoms can include: Leg swelling. Leg pain, cramping or soreness that often starts in the calf. Change in skin color on the leg — such as red or purple, depending on the color of your skin.

What would DVT be misdiagnosed with? ›

DVT is sometimes misdiagnosed in one of several possible ways. One possible cause of a misdiagnosis is that the symptoms of DVT can be similar to those of other conditions, such as a muscle strain or sprain, varicose veins, or a pulled muscle.

Does a blood clot in the leg hurt constantly? ›

Does blood clot pain come and go? Unlike the pain from a charley horse that usually goes away after stretching or with rest, the pain from a blood clot does not go away and usually gets worse with time.

How do you check if you have DVT at home? ›

DVT Symptoms To Be Aware Of
  1. Swelling in one or both legs.
  2. Changes in the color of the affected leg - typically to a blue or purple shade.
  3. A warm feeling of the skin on the affected limb.
  4. Leg tenderness or pain.
  5. Tired or restless leg that doesn't appear to go away.
  6. Reddening or discoloration of the skin on the leg.

Should you walk if you have a DVT in your leg? ›

There are things you can do to help you recover from DVT (deep vein thrombosis). After you leave hospital, you'll be encouraged to: walk regularly. keep your affected leg raised when you're sitting.

Which leg is mostly affected by DVT? ›

DVT most often affects large veins in the thigh and lower leg, usually on one side of the body. If the clot blocks blood flow, it can cause: Red or darker-colored skin. Painful or swollen leg (edema)

What feels like a blood clot but isn t? ›

You may have DVT, deep vein thrombosis, if you notice that one limb is swollen, painful, warm, and red. But many other things can cause similar symptoms. Some of them, like minor cuts, fractures, or sprains, are relatively harmless, and others are more serious.

How do you tell if it's muscle pain or a blood clot? ›

These symptoms of a blood clot may feel similar to a pulled muscle or a charley horse, but may differ in that the leg (or arm) may be swollen, slightly discolored, and warm. Contact your doctor as soon as possible if you have any of these symptoms, because you may need treatment right away.

How fast does a blood clot travel from the leg to the lungs? ›

How fast does a blood clot travel from the legs to the lungs? A blood clot can break loose and travel from the legs to the lungs rapidly . It may take several days or weeks, or it can happen in a matter of minutes or hours. Once it has moved, a blood clot in the lungs can develop, which is known as an embolism.

What conditions mimic DVT? ›

Emergent mimics of a DVT include acute arterial occlusion, phlegmasia cerulea dolens, compartment syndrome, and necrotizing fasciitis, with less emergent mimics including congestive heart failure, cellulitis, vasculitis, nephrotic syndrome, lymphedema, venous stasis, and Baker's cyst.

Should I take aspirin if I think I have a blood clot in my leg? ›

If you visit a vein clinic or hospital for a blood clot and blood thinners are suggested to you, taking aspirin may be an option, instead. It is not for everyone, and will not be enough in all cases, but it does have a similar effect and may work well to reduce the chances of another blood clot in the future.

Can you have a DVT without swelling or redness? ›

A common symptom of DVT is a leg swollen below the knee. You may have redness and tenderness or pain in the area of the clot. But you won't always have these. About half of people with DVT get no warning signs.

What are 4 other diagnoses that might mimic the signs and symptoms of a DVT? ›

Conditions Similar to DVT: How to Tell the Difference
  • Deep Vein Thrombosis.
  • Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)
  • Varicose Veins.
  • Spider Veins.
  • Cellulitis.
  • Vasculitis.
  • Acute Arterial Occlusion.
  • Necrotizing Fasciitis.
Jan 19, 2023

Can you have a blood clot without DVT? ›

That's why you might not know you have one until it causes problems. There are three types of blood clots that form in the veins -- superficial venous thrombosis, deep vein thrombosis (DVT), and pulmonary embolism (PE). Superficial venous thrombosis.

What does the beginning of a DVT feel like? ›

Symptoms of DVT (deep vein thrombosis)

throbbing pain in 1 leg (rarely both legs), usually in the calf or thigh, when walking or standing up. swelling in 1 leg (rarely both legs) warm skin around the painful area. red or darkened skin around the painful area – this may be harder to see on brown or black skin.

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