Blood clots can be very dangerous serious medical condition. It is important to know as much as you can about it.
This article is aimed at answering all your blood clot questions. This is important so don’t get bored. Lets get started right away.
Blood Clot Questions
What are Blood Clots ? A blood clot is a gel-like mass formed by platelets and fibrin in the blood to stop bleeding. Normally, it forms when your body tries to repair a wound. In medicine, a blood clot is called a thrombus (plural = thrombi). But sometimes these clots can be dangerous if it develops abnormally when flowing blood begins to stagnate or is blocked inside an artery or vein. This is when you should be concerned.
Blood clot questions
What is the difference between a Thrombus and Embolus ?
Both are blood clots. A thrombus is a blood clot that forms in a vein. Remember when flowing blood stagnates and possibly reaches a blockage, a thrombus can form. When part of this clot breaks off and travels through the blood vessels, it is called an embolus. So you can say an embolus is often a small piece of a blood clot that breaks off (thromboembolus).
Blood clot questions: What causes Blood Clots?
I guess this has been mentioned earlier. Normally, clots form to initiate a repair after a wound or a damage to an artery or a vein. Blood also will begin to clot if it stops moving and becomes stagnant. Clots can occur in any part of the body but the most common ones will be discussed.
Blood clots in a vein can occur if you are immobilized for a while. Stagnant blood may form small clots along the walls of the vein. After a while, these can grow to partially or completely block the vein. This can cause Deep Venous Thrombosis
Blood clots in an artery (arterial thrombi) can occur when the arterial wall are narrowed like in atherosclerotic disease where plaque deposits form along the lining of the artery and gradually thicken to narrow the blood vessels.
Blood clots in the heart: This can happen when the upper atrium of the heart beats in an irregular manner and as a result, blood tends to become stagnant along the walls of the atrium. Gradually blood clots may begin to form. Clots also can form in the ventricle after a heart attack when part of the heart muscle can not contract normally.Blood begins to stagnate and so does clots.
Blood clots in the lungs also called Pulmonary Embolism (PE). It occurs when a blood clots travels to the lungs and can be fatal if care is not taken.
Blood clots in the brain can result in a stroke.
There are other instances where blood clots can be found. For example, If you have a bleeding peptic ulcers, you may at times vomit liquid blood mixed with clot.
People with urinary tract or bladder infections occasionally may see blood in their urine with small clots. Sometimes, these clots may be large enough to cause urethral blockage (means bladder is blocked) so urinating becomes difficult and painful sometimes.
Blood clot questions: Am I at risk of Abnormal blood clots formation?
You will be at risk of blood clots in the arteries if you have any condition that causes narrowing of your blood vessels. Examples of these may include high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, diabetes, smoking, family history of early heart attack or stroke and even cancer
Risk factors for blood clots in the veins include the following:
Immobility especially anyone who is hospitalized or bedridden after illness or surgery,taking long trips (such as in a car, train, or plane), without standing, walking or stretching which can cause blood clots in the leg veins. Immobility due to paralysis from a stroke or spinal cord injury.
Pregnancy can also be a risk factor for forming blood clots in the legs and pelvis, due to insufficient blood flow back to the heart. You are also at risk if you have the following:
- Disorders of blood clotting.
- Have varicose (bad) veins.
- History of blood clots in the family.
- Using birth control pills.
Blood clot questions: What should I do if I think I am at risk?
Talk with your doctor to see to confirm your risk status. This will help you focus on how best to prevent or control it.
Blood clot questions: Can I identify symptoms of blood clots?
Yes you can.The signs and symptoms of blood clots may differ depending on the location of the clots and are identifiable.
Symptoms of blood clots in the veins
The symptoms here occur as a result of the blood clots in the veins blocking blood return to the heart. These clots occur in the extremities especially legs or the arms. The symptoms you observe may include:
Most times, you might feel these symptoms in only one leg or arm for hours.You might be a bit confused sometimes when your leg or arm becomes red, warm, and swollen, you might as well think the cause is an infection instead of a blood clot ( called deep vein thrombosis/ DVT in this case)
Symptoms of blood clots in the arteries
Depending on the location of the clot arterial blood clots may result in emergencies because conditions arising from them can be fatal. The blood clots in the arteries do not only block blood pumping to an area, it also starves the affected area of important oxygen supply causing the affected body tissue to die off (ischemia).
If this happens in the coronary arteries, a Heart attack may occur. Symptoms of a heart attack may include:
- Chest pain or pressure that you also feel in your arm, jaw or back.
- Shortness of breath
If it happens in the brain arteries a Stroke may occur. This might come with :
- Loss of speech
- Loss of vision
- Profound dizziness
- Weakness and/or loss of sensastion on one side of the body
If yow want to remember these symptoms (for stroke) easily say the word “FAST”
F = Facial drooling S = Speech difficulties
A = Arm weakness T = Time ( reversing stroke takes time)
Blood Clots in the intestinal arteries can cause abdominal pain, vomiting,bloating and even blood in the stool.
Symptoms blood clots in the arteries will depend on the location, just as examples in the heart, brain and intestines have shown. Remember Blood clots can be dangerous and you might have to call 911.
Blood clot questions: Can I be sure its a blood clot ?
The truth is you can’t until you see a physician, but are you at risk? Remember the risk factors. The location of the blood clot and its effect on blood flow is what causes the symptoms you experience. Remember the following to help you act fast.
- Venous blood clots often develop slowly with a gradual onset of swelling, pain, and discoloration. Symptoms of a venous thrombus will progress over hours.
- Although arterial thrombi occur sudden most times. There may be symptoms you can notice before the sudden artery blockage that will serve as warning signs.
You may experience angina or chest discomfort (pressure, pain, indigestion, fatigue) days or weeks prior to the heart attack. People with peripheral artery disease may have pain with walking called claudication
Blood clot questions: How will the doctor confirm if its a blood clot?
Shouldn’t you leave that to the doctors?….Well its always good to know what to expect too.
The doctor would have a discussion with you concerning the history of your complain, your family history, habits and other useful information to understand the situation and probably confirm if you really are at risk.
Physical examinations would also be done to confirm suspicion for a blood clot.These may include:
Monitoring your vital signs ( blood pressure, pulse rate, respiratory rate, body temperature, and oxygen saturation (percentage of your red blood cells with oxygen ) .
The doctor may examine the lungs to listen for abnormal sounds caused by an area of inflamed lung tissue, if there is concern about a pulmonary embolus.
The doctor my examine the affected area for lack or reduced blood flow. ( area may appear white because of the lack of blood supply, may be cool to touch and there may be loss of sensation and movement).
There are no routine screening tests but some tests may be carried out. These may include:
- D-Dimer Test
- CT scan
- Ventilation perfusion (V/Q) scan
Blood clot questions:Are Blood Clots treatable?
Yes they are.
Sometimes you may need only medications to relieve the pain and inflammation. This will work if it is a blood clot in the superficial veins. (for example, acetaminophen Tylenol or ibuprofen).
For Blood Clots in the deep vein system of the arm or leg you may need to use anticoagulants. In 2016 the American College of Chest Physicians guidelines recommend that patients who have deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or pulmonary embolus (PE) be treated with different anticoagulation medications depending upon their situation.
Treatment of blood clots in the arteries are more dangerous and could require surgery sometimes to remove the clot, or medication may be administered directly into the clot to try to dissolve it. Alteplase and tenecteplase are examples of thrombolytic medications that may be used in peripheral arteries to try dissolve the clots. There are actually different types of medications that act as bloood thinners for example Apixaban, Dabigatran,Warfarrin amongst others. These may not break up the clots but they will prevent them from getting bigger.
For Heart attack,medications like Activase, or tenecteplase may be used intravenously to try dissolve the thrombus and minimize heart damage but there are times that a cardiac catheterization will be needed to locate the blocked blood vessel, open the blocked area, restore blood flow, and place a stent to keep it open.
Blood clot questions: How long will I have to stay on Medications for blood clots ?
Really taking medications for a long time can be stressful. For blood clots the duration of drugs depend on the cause of the clots. If the cause is just one for example surgery, duration of medication might not take long but if the cause is a DVT, it might take up to 6 months. If its an inherited condition, it might be longer.
Can DVT or PE Reoccur after treatment ?
Sadly one-third of people with DVT or PE will have it again within 10 years. Preventing yours depends on reducing your risk of what caused it previously.
Although risks like age and inherited disorders cannot be reduced, you can prevent abnormal blood clots.
How can I prevent blood clots ?
Hmm…the question should be how you can prevent abnormal blood clot formation because blood clots can save you from dying of bleeding. You should remember the following to prevent abnormal clots.
Stay active. Since immobilization is a major risk factor, move around routinely so that blood can circulate in the venous system. On long trips, it is recommended to get out of the car every couple of hours, or in an airplane to routinely get up and stretch.
Wear loose-fitting clothes.
Wear compression stockings especially if your doctor prescribes them.
Pay close attention to the risk factors that can cause plaque buildup and “hardening” of the arteries. This will help you minimise the risk of a vascular disease.
Monitor your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, blood sugar (diabetes control) and refrain from smoking will help reduce the risk of an arterial disease.
If you recently had a hip or knee replacement or heart irregularity like atrial fibrillation, discuss with your doctor on use of anticoagulants for your condition.
NOTE: You will need to be even more vigilant about the other risk factors if there is a family history of early heart attack or stroke.
Are there foods, supplements that can help prevent abnormal blood clots ?
Yes there are. These are common supplements just that you might not be aware they are very useful for this purpose. They are natural blood thinners that reduce your risk of abnormal blood clots. Examples include:
Remember, prompt diagnosis and proper treatment can save lives and help prevent complications associated with blood clots.
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Kearon, C., et al. “Antithrombotic Therapy for VTE Disease: Chest Guideline and Expert Panel Report.” Chest. 2016;149(2):315-352.
Dzsheka MS, et al. Stroke and bleeding risk in atrial fibrillation. Clin Cardiol.2014, Oct, 37(10)
Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.