General

Blood clots and their risks

By Marion Ali, Assistant Editor

A blood clot that is stationary, such as on the skin, or elsewhere, is generally not harmful, but if it is in a vein and breaks up and travels to your heart and lungs, it could become a serious health factor because it can get stuck and prevent blood flow, according to medical research.

A blood clot is a mass of blood that changes from liquid to a gel-like or semi-solid state. It is necessary in the healing of freshly scarred tissue because it prevents excessive blood loss when you injure or cut yourself.

When a clot forms inside one of your veins, however, it won’t always dissolve on its own. This can be a life-threatening situation.

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a clot that occurs in one of the major veins inside your body. One of the most common areas for this to form is in the lower legs; however, blood can also clot in the arms, pelvis, lungs, or the brain.

According to the American Society of Hematology, DVT affects up to 900,000 Americans each year, and kills about 100,000 Americans annually. The Society states there is no one way to know for sure whether you have a blood clot without medical guidance, but there are some signs and symptoms that could be taken into account and to share with your doctor.

Warning signs and symptoms
It is possible to have a blood clot and have no warning signs, but in some cases, there are signs and symptoms which can also occur for other diseases. If there is a blood clot in the lower leg, it can cause swelling, pain, tenderness or a warm sensation. You may also experience pain in your calf when you stretch your toes upward, or notice a pale or bluish discoloration on the affected area. If the clot is large, it can cause extensive pain or swelling to your entire leg.

It is not as common for blood to clot in the heart, but it is still possible. A blood clot in the heart can cause chest pains or heaviness in the chest. Feeling faint and having shortness of breath are other possible symptoms.

“If you’re sweaty or have what feels like indigestion along with chest pain, that’s more cause for concern of a heart attack,” according to Dr. Patrick Vaccaro, director of the Division of Vascular Diseases and Surgery at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

If you suddenly start having severe abdominal pain, accompanied by vomiting and diarrhea, it could also mean that a blood clot is somewhere in your abdomen. Of course, these can also symptoms of something entirely different.

A sudden and severe headache, coupled with sudden difficulty speaking or seeing can be telltale signs of a blood clot in the brain, which can cause a stroke. A stroke can also have other signs, such as weakness or numbness on one side of the body, difficulty walking, or the inability to think clearly.

A sudden shortness of breath, chest pain, a rapid heart rate, and coughing up blood can be a sign that a blood clot has traveled to your lungs.

Risk factors of blood clots
Some risk factors of blood clots include: a major surgery, age, remaining stationary for more than four hours, such as in a lengthy trip, obesity, pregnancy, a family history of blood clots, smoking, and certain birth control pills.

WebMD states that, “Depending upon their location, blood clots may be aggressively treated or may need nothing more than symptomatic care.”

Treatment
Clots in the superficial system are often treated symptomatically with warm compresses and acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

The website further states that blood clots below the knee are at lower risk for embolization to the lung, and that ultrasound examinations are an alternative to monitor the clot for its growth or whether it is being reabsorbed by the body.

For arterial blood clots, surgery may be attempted to remove the clot, or medication may be administered directly into the clot to try to dissolve it.

The general advice is if you have observed any of the symptoms listed, to share the observation with your doctor, especially if you are at increased risk for clots.

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