Leg arteries are the most common locations for Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT). In DVT, a blood clot forms in the deep veins of the body. The main danger of the clot is that it can become dislodged and travel to your lungs, resulting in a pulmonary embolism. While DVTs can form anywhere in the body, the legs are the most common location. Sometimes referred to as Economy Class Syndrome, due to the reported prevalence of DVT among long-distance airplane travelers, DVT is even more prevalent in hospital patients with prolonged leg restrictions. DVT is particularly dangerous because the symptoms are often vague and easily overlooked.
Many of the symptoms of blocked leg arteries are quite vague and often can be mistaken for muscle strains or charley horses. Some of the early symptoms can include a slight warmth near the blockage, redness near the blockage, bruising near the blockage, a "pins and needles" sensation in the calf, and cramping in your feet and legs.
As the clot forms in the legs, the restricted blood flow can lead to swelling. If one calf suddenly balloons up more than the other, DVT may be the culprit. While moderate swelling is seen after long flights or other periods of leg restrictions, severe swelling should be seen as a major red flag. If the blood clot already has become dislodged from the leg and traveled to the lung, the symptoms will be indicative of a pulmonary embolism (blockage of the pulmonary artery in the lung).
If the thrombosis dislodges from the leg and travels to the lung, severe symptoms are likely. Some of the more common symptoms of a pulmonary embolism include sudden shortness of breath, dizziness, chest pain that worsens with coughing, and coughing up blood or pink mucus. Unfortunately, sometimes the first symptom is fainting or a potentially fatal loss of consciousness. Because of the severity of pulmonary embolisms, it's important to stay vigilant if you suspect that you may have leg artery blockage. The best way to stay a step ahead of the game is to take the vague symptoms seriously, especially if you're at high risk for DVT development.
Blood clots form due to a restriction of blood flow that impedes the circulation process. When people are in situations where they cannot move their legs for extended periods of time, the chances of forming a clot are increased. Common situations that can lead to clots include prolonged hospital visits, long plane rides, long train rides, long car rides or sleeping in extremely cramped quarters. Some people are at a higher risk for DVT. Risk factors such as lack of hydration, use of birth control, smoking, pregnancy, pre-existing conditions like cancer and leg injury can increase a person's risk of developing a blocked leg artery.
If DVT is suspected, your doctor can perform a variety of imaging tests to verify the presence of a clot. Venography, ultrasounds and MRIs are all effective methods of diagnosis. Should the tests come up positive, you will be given blood-thinning medication. Based on the severity of the clot, more intense medication may be necessary. Thrombolytics are administered intravenously in the most dire situations to help break up a clot. For people sensitive or unresponsive to medications, a tube can be inserted in the abdomen's vena cava. The tube serves as a buffer that will prevent loose clots from traveling to the lungs.
When to See a Doctor
If you experience any of the vague symptoms of DVT and recently have had your legs restricted, it's a wise idea to seek medical advice. People especially prone to clot formation should be particularly cautious. If you already exhibit symptoms of a pulmonary embolism, go to the emergency room immediately. Rapid treatment could be a matter of life or death.