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How Is Deep Vein Thrombosis Diagnosed?

Your doctor will diagnose deep vein thrombosis (DVT) based on your medical history, a physical exam, and test results. He or she will identify your risk factors and rule out other causes of your symptoms.

For some people, DVT might not be diagnosed until after they receive emergency treatment for pulmonary embolism (PE).

Medical History

To learn about your medical history, your doctor may ask about:

  • Your overall health
  • Any prescription medicines you're taking
  • Any recent surgeries or injuries you've had
  • Whether you've been treated for cancer

Physical Exam

Your doctor will check your legs for signs of DVT, such as swelling or redness. He or she also will check your blood pressure and your heart and lungs.

Diagnostic Tests

Your doctor may recommend tests to find out whether you have DVT.

Common Tests

The most common test for diagnosing deep vein blood clots is ultrasound. This test uses sound waves to create pictures of blood flowing through the arteries and veins in the affected leg.

Your doctor also may recommend a D-dimer test or venography (ve-NOG-rah-fee).

A D-dimer test measures a substance in the blood that's released when a blood clot dissolves. If the test shows high levels of the substance, you may have a deep vein blood clot. If your test results are normal and you have few risk factors, DVT isn't likely.

Your doctor may suggest venography if an ultrasound doesn't provide a clear diagnosis. For venography, dye is injected into a vein in the affected leg. The dye makes the vein visible on an x-ray image. The x ray will show whether blood flow is slow in the vein, which may suggest a blood clot.

Other Tests

Other tests used to diagnose DVT include magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (to-MOG-rah-fee), or CT, scanning. These tests create pictures of your organs and tissues.

You may need blood tests to check whether you have an inherited blood clotting disorder that can cause DVT. This may be the case if you have repeated blood clots that are not related to another cause. Blood clots in an unusual location (such as the liver, kidney, or brain) also may suggest an inherited clotting disorder.

If your doctor thinks that you have PE, he or she may recommend more tests, such as a lung ventilation perfusion scan (VQ scan). A lung VQ scan shows how well oxygen and blood are flowing to all areas of the lungs.

For more information about diagnosing PE, go to the Health Topics Pulmonary Embolism article.

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Deep Vein Thrombosis Clinical Trials

Clinical trials are research studies that explore whether a medical strategy, treatment, or device is safe and effective for humans. To find clinical trials that are currently underway for Deep Vein Thrombosis, visit www.clinicaltrials.gov.


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October 28, 2011 Last Updated Icon

The NHLBI updates Health Topics articles on a biennial cycle based on a thorough review of research findings and new literature. The articles also are updated as needed if important new research is published. The date on each Health Topics article reflects when the content was originally posted or last revised.