What Do Blood Clots in the Leg Feel Like?

June 23, 2021

Clinical Contributors to this Story

Katherine Armstrong, M.D. contributes to topics such as Pediatrics, Hematology Oncology.

Have you ever sat on a long flight, then stood up to leave the plane and noticed that your leg hurt in a way that it hadn’t at the start of your journey? Prolonged sitting may increase the risk of developing a blood clot in the leg, which is also called deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

DVT typically forms deep within a vein in the leg. When a blood clot forms, it can obstruct blood flow, leading to uncomfortable symptoms. If a clot breaks free from the spot where it formed, it may cause a potentially life-threatening condition known as pulmonary embolism, when the clot travels through blood vessels and enters the lung.

Not all blood clots in the leg lead to pulmonary embolism; some resolve on their own. But if you notice signs that you may have DVT, seeing a doctor quickly may help you avoid dangerous complications.

“There are effective treatments for a blood clot in the leg, most notably blood thinners, which hinder clotting ability while they’re being used,” says Katherine Armstrong, M.D., MS, pediatric hematologist-oncologist of Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital at Hackensack University Medical Center. “Seeking medical help early when you think that you may have a blood clot is always the right decision, even if it turns out to be nothing. It’s better to be safe than sorry when pulmonary embolism could be a possibility.”

Signs that you may have a blood clot

Many people who have a blood clot notice discomfort in the affected leg and can’t attribute the problem to a recent injury, overuse or another factor. They’re more common after surgery and among people on bed rest or those who sit for long periods without stretching.

Symptoms include:

  • leg pain or discomfort that may feel like a pulled muscle, tightness, cramping or soreness
  • swelling in the affected leg
  • redness or discoloration of the sore spot
  • the affected area feeling warm to the touch
  • a throbbing sensation in the affected leg

Some people don’t experience noticeable symptoms, which makes it difficult for them to recognize that they should seek care.

Blood clots are more common among people who:

  • smoke
  • are obese
  • take birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy
  • have a personal or family history of blood clots

Can kids get blood clots in the leg?

Blood clots are more common among people age 60 and older, but it’s possible for kids to experience DVT. They’re rare in healthy children, but they’re more common among kids who are hospitalized.

Factors that may increase the risk of blood clots in children include:

  • having had surgery
  • having a catheter or PICC line placed in a vein
  • being confined to bed
  • having a family history of blood clots
  • taking birth control pills (teenage girls)

When to seek care for a possible blood clot

If you think that you or your child may have a blood clot in the leg, seeing a doctor that day may help you avoid complications. If you can’t get a same-day appointment with your regular doctor, visit an urgent care center or emergency room. Quick care may help you ward off a pulmonary embolism, which may be deadly.

Whether or not you’ve noticed symptoms of DVT, seek emergency care if you have symptoms of a pulmonary embolism, including:

  • sudden difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • chest pain that worsens when you try breathing deeply
  • a sudden cough, especially if you produce bloody mucus
  • a fast heartbeat
  • dizziness or losing consciousness

Healthy habits may lower your risk of blood clots

If you have a family history of blood clots or you’re about to have surgery, talk to your doctor about ways to lower your risk of DVT.

To lower your risk of blood clots in everyday situations, make lifestyle changes, including:

  • breaking up long periods of sitting (whether at home, at work or while traveling)
  • being more physically active
  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • quitting smoking

Next Steps & Resources:

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.