A DVT (blood clot) that’s in your leg has a chance of breaking apart or completely dislodging and then going to your lungs…and how long this takes is not what you may think it is.
I was reading in a health anxiety forum a lengthy thread that was started by a person who’d been at her computer for “three days” googling things relating to health — but not DVT.
She took breaks only to use the bathroom, catnap here and there, maybe eat a little something, but essentially it was a marathon at the computer for three days.
Upon getting up at the end of the computer stint, she felt a pain in her calf and googled this, learning that marathon sitting at a computer can cause a blood clot.
She then freaked out, convinced that there was a DVT in her calf. She kept making posts in the thread over a 45 minute period, corresponding in the then-real-time with a few other caring health anxiety sufferers.
At some point she then said the pain had moved up to her knee and was panicking that the DVT had broken off and was on the way to her lungs. This post was maybe 10 minutes after the first one.
Then 15 minutes later she made a post that her thigh was hurting, and could the DVT then be in her thigh on the way to her lungs?
What a Vascular Surgeon Says
According to the times these posts were made, 15 or so minutes had lapsed between the onset of the knee pain and the thigh pain.
She was convinced that this meant that the DVT was enroute to her lungs.
When a blood clot gets into a lung, it’s called a pulmonary embolism.
Blood Clot in Leg: Hare or Turtoise?
So if a DVT breaks off or dislodges from its location in the leg, just how long will it take to get to the lungs and become a pulmonary embolism?
“Generally, it is immediate (do not know the exact time period), but by far the majority remain clinically silent since they can be very small,” explains Seyed-Mojtaba Gashti, MD, a board certified vascular surgeon with Broward Health Medical Center in Florida.
Imagine that you have a DVT anywhere in your leg, and suddenly, a part of it breaks off or dislodges.
This clot material then gets swept up by the venous flow that returns de-oxygenated blood to the lungs.
This is akin to tossing stuff in a river, and the flow of the river carries it downstream.
Of course, veins in the legs pump blood “upstream,” but the principle is the same:
The bits of DVT immediately get carried away with this blood circulation and, like Dr. Gashti says, the time lapse is immediate from when the clot dislodges to when it arrives in the lung (pulmonary artery).
Think of it this way:
The time it takes for a broken DVT to get to your lungs is the time it takes for the blood in your calf vein, at any given time, to get to your lungs. That’s just seconds.
Though most pulmonary emboli don’t produce symptoms due to being very small, this doesn’t negate the estimated 300,000 U.S. deaths every year to a pulmonary embolism.
A pulmonary embolism is a common event in the U.S. population.
Extended air travel
Extended vehicular travel
Lack of exercise
If you suspect a DVT, and knowing that if it dislodges, the occurrence of a pulmonary embolism will be literally within seconds, don’t delay getting yourself checked out in the nearest emergency room.
The time between when a blood clot breaks to when it reaches the lungs is a few SECONDS.
Dr. Gashti specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of vascular disease including abdominal and aortic aneurysm.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.