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What to know about a blood clot in the leg

A blood clot occurs when blood congeals. If this happens inside a person's body, including their leg, it can cause severe problems. Some blood clots are especially dangerous as they can travel to a person's lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism that can be fatal.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) note that the symptoms of a blood clot in a person's leg include swelling, red skin, pain in the leg, or the leg feeling warm to the touch. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), if a blood clot happens in a larger vein, this is a deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

The AHRQ say that blood clots are more likely to occur if a person is unable to move around a lot. This can be due to surgery, an injury, or sitting down for an extended period, such as on a long-haul flight.


Symptoms of a blood clot in the leg may include swelling and pain. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, blood clots or DVT can cause obvious symptoms. However, they also note that DVT does not always have any associated symptoms. Symptoms include:

  • Swelling: If a person develops a clot in their leg, it may swell up so that it is much larger than the other leg.

  • Red skin: The skin on their leg may also become red or discolored.

  • Pain: They may experience pain in the part of the leg where the blood clot has developed.

  • Warmth: The swollen, red skin may feel warm to the touch.

When to see a doctor

According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, a person should contact their doctor immediately if they suspect they have DVT. This is because DVT can result in a pulmonary embolism, where the blood clot moves to a person's lung. The symptoms of a pulmonary embolism include:

  • shortness of breath

  • pain when breathing

  • rapid breathing

  • increased heart rate

A pulmonary embolism is a life-threatening condition that requires immediate emergency treatment.

Risk factors

According to the AHRQ, risk factors for a blood clot include:

  • having had surgery recently

  • being older than 65

  • taking birth control hormones

  • being treated for cancer, or having had cancer

  • having a broken hip, pelvis, or leg

  • having a bad bruise

  • being obese

  • staying seated or in bed for long period

  • had a stroke

  • being paralyzed

  • having a port in their body through which a doctor administers medicine

  • having issues with veins

  • having heart problems

  • having had a blood clot previously, or family members who have had blood clots


A person can prevent blood clots by avoiding a sedentary lifestyle. According to the CDC, the best way to prevent a blood clot or DVT is to maintain a healthy weight, avoid a sedentary lifestyle where possible, and follow any recommendations from a doctor. The CDC also recommend that a person gets up and walks around regularly, and exercises their leg muscles, even when seated.

A person could try:

  • raising and lowering their heels while keeping their toes on the floor

  • raising and lowering their toes,

  • keeping their heels on the floor

  • tightening and releasing their leg muscles

  • According to an article in the Journal of Thrombosis and Haemostasis, taking a low dose of aspirin might be effective at reducing the chances of developing blood clots or DVT.


It is possible to minimize the risk of developing a blood clot or DVT by avoiding clear risk factors and practicing prevention techniques, such as exercising muscles wherever possible.

If a person thinks they have had a blood clot in their leg, they should contact a doctor immediately.

Source: Medical News Today: 3 May 2019.

By Timothy Huzar Reviewed by Gerhard Whitworth, RN

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