Peripheral Artery Disease and Deep Vein Thrombosis Symptoms

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: March 2024

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) and deep vein thrombosis (DVT) are 2 vascular conditions that have many of the same symptoms. They are treatable, but they can become very serious if left untreated. It is important to know the signs and symptoms of PAD and DVT so you can get treatment as soon as possible.1

Symptoms of peripheral artery disease

PAD occurs when there is a buildup of fatty deposits, also known as plaque, in the arteries that supply blood to your limbs. This reduced blood flow can lead to many symptoms. PAD most often affects the legs.1,2

Symptoms of PAD include:1,2

  • Leg pain and cramping – One of the hallmark symptoms of PAD is pain or cramping in the legs or buttocks. This pain usually happens during physical activity and gets better at rest. This is known as claudication.
  • Numbness or weakness – Reduced blood flow may cause numbness or weakness in the affected leg.
  • Coldness or discoloration of the skin – The affected leg may feel colder than the other. The skin may also turn a pale or blue color.
  • More frequent wounds or infections on the legs or feet – Wounds or infections may occur more often and take longer to heal than normal.

Symptoms of deep vein thrombosis

DVT is a condition in which a blood clot forms in a deep vein, usually in the legs. The clot can stop the flow of blood, leading to severe complications.1,3,4

Symptoms of DVT include:1,3,4

  • Swelling – One of the most common signs of DVT is swelling in the affected leg, often with a feeling of heaviness.
  • Pain or tenderness – The leg may be painful or feel tender, especially when you are standing or walking.
  • Red or discolored skin – The skin over the affected area might appear reddish or have a bluish tint.

Overlapping symptoms of PAD and DVT

PAD and DVT share some symptoms, making it somewhat challenging to tell them apart without being diagnosed by a doctor. Both conditions can cause the following symptoms:1-4

  • Leg pain
  • Cramping
  • Changes in skin color

Complications of PAD and DVT

If left untreated, both peripheral artery disease and deep vein thrombosis can lead to serious medical issues.

Complications of PAD can include:2,5

  • Critical limb ischemia – In this condition, there is not enough blood flow to sustain the affected limb. The lack of blood flow can lead to tissue death (gangrene). To prevent any more damage to the surrounding tissue, amputation of the limb may be necessary. This treatment is reserved for when PAD is very severe.
  • Heart attack and stroke – The likelihood of heart attack and stroke is higher in people with PAD.

Complications of DVT can include:3,4,6

  • Pulmonary embolism (PE) – Here, a blood clot from a leg breaks loose and travels to the lungs. PE can be life-threatening.
  • Post-thrombotic syndrome – Chronic leg pain, swelling, and skin changes can persist even after the blood clot has been treated. These symptoms are known as post-thrombotic syndrome.

Treatment for PAD and DVT

Both PAD and DVT require prompt medical attention. The sooner these conditions are diagnosed, the sooner they can be treated. Early treatment leads to better outcomes and overall prognosis.2-4

Treatment for PAD typically includes:1,2,5

  • Lifestyle changes – Adopting a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise, a balanced diet, and no smoking, can help manage PAD and prevent it from getting worse.
  • Medicine – Medicines to lower cholesterol, control blood pressure, and prevent blood clots are often prescribed for people with PAD.
  • Surgery – In serious cases, procedures like angioplasty or bypass surgery may be needed to restore blood flow.
  • Amputation – In very severe cases of tissue damage, amputation of the affected leg may be necessary.

Treatment for DVT typically includes:1,3,4

  • Medicine – Blood thinners (anticoagulants) are commonly prescribed to prevent blood clots from growing and reduce the risk of complications.
  • Compression socks/stockings – These help reduce swelling and improve blood flow.
  • Thrombolytics – This type of medicine may be used to dissolve a blood clot. They are sometimes referred to as “clot-busting” drugs.
  • Filter placement – A small, umbrella-shaped device called a filter may be inserted (via a catheter) into a large vein that carries blood from the lower half of the body to the heart. This vein is called the inferior vena cava.

When to see a doctor

If you have persistent leg pain, swelling, or changes in skin color, talk to a healthcare professional as soon as possible. Early detection and treatment can greatly improve the outcomes for both peripheral artery disease and deep vein thrombosis.1

Lifestyle changes, medicines, and, if needed, medical procedures can help manage these conditions. Do not ignore the signs. Seek medical help if you suspect you have symptoms of either PAD or DVT.1

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Treatment results and side effects can vary from person to person. This treatment information is not meant to replace professional medical advice. Talk to your doctor about what to expect before starting and while taking any treatment.