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Recognizing DVT and Pulmonary Embolism

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Deep veins thrombosis (DVT) is a condition in which a blood clot forms in a deep vein of the body. DVT typically affects larger veins such as those in the lower leg and thighs, but it can also involve veins from other parts of the body. In DVT, blood clots are formed when the blood thickens and clumps together. When the blood clots break off, they can flow through the bloodstream and can obstruct the blood flow to any area of the body. The blood clot that is loose and has been separated from the clump is called embolus.

The material on this page regarding DVT and pulmonary embolisms is for learning purposes only. To learn to recognize and manage DVT and other cardiac emergencies sign up for a recognized Canadian first aid and CPR class today.

The most serious complication of deep venous thrombosis is a pulmonary embolism (PE). When you have this condition, the embolus travels to the artery in the lungs and obstruct the blood flow. Consequently, it can affect the quality of air flow and breathing. Although blood clots can form in any area of the body, they usually form in the blood vessels in the thighs and cause pulmonary embolism as a complication.

What are the causes of DVT?

Deep venous thrombosis is caused by blood clots. The blood clot formations are associated to the following conditions:

  • The vein’s inner lining has been damaged such as in surgeries, serious injuries, inflammation and immune responses. Any biological, physical or chemical factor that can damage the veins can cause the formation of blood clots.
  • When the blood flow in the veins are slow. This occurs when you are on bed rest for longer periods, severely ill, after surgery or when you are travelling for a long time.
  • Inherited conditions, hormone therapy or birth control pills usually make the blood thicker which increase the risks to blood clot formation.

How are DVT and pulmonary embolism recognized?

pain on the leg

The signs and symptoms of DVT and PE usually cause life-threatening conditions. If you think you have these signs and symptoms, contact your doctor as soon as possible. About half of the individuals having DVT have observable symptoms that can make early detection of the disease easier at its early stage. The symptoms of DVT are usually observable in the leg that has been affected by the clot. They include:

  • Swelling of the leg or along the vein of the leg
  • Pain or tenderness in your leg which can be felt only when standing or walking
  • The swelling leg is warmer than any other parts of your body
  • Discoloration of the affected leg (may be red or bluish)

The symptoms of pulmonary embolism indicate an emergency. Although there is little that you can do regarding PE, recognizing if you are having an attack and reacting promptly is very helpful. Call 911 as soon as possible if you or someone you see has the following symptoms:

  • Unexplained shortness of breath
  • Pain when deep breathing
  • Coughing out of blood


National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Explore Deep Vein Thrombosis. Retrieved on July 1, 2014 from

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