A blood clot is a clump of blood that changes from a liquid to a semisolid or gel-like state. While clotting is an important function of the body and can prevent you from losing too much blood following an injury, internal clotting can cause severe health complications.
Blood clots can form inside any blood vessel and develop when hemoglobin (blood) comes in contact with waxy, sticky substances on the vessel walls (e.g., plaque, cholesterol, fat or calcium). Stationary blood clots are known as thrombosis, while clots that break loose and travel through the blood vessels are called embolisms.
Both types of clots are dangerous, but embolisms are considered more dangerous than a mild to moderate thrombosis because it tends to block the entire blood vessel, which can lead to serious health issues like heart attack or stroke.
Types of blood clots
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, blood clots affect as many as 900,000 Americans each year. The seriousness of a blood clot largely depends on its location in the body.
An arterial clot develops in the artery, stops the flow of blood to major organs and leads to tissue damage. Treatment is often essential.
A venous clot develops inside the vein. These develop slowly and can restrict blood flow. If a venous clot breaks loose, it can quickly travel to other parts of the body. These migrations can lead to serious complications because the clot disrupts the flow of blood to important organs.
Signs and symptoms of blood clots
Here are the signs and symptoms of a stationary blood clot or thrombosis:
- Redness of the skin
Here are the signs and symptoms of an embolism:
- Difficulty breathing
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
- Chest pain that worsens with a deep breath
- Coughing up blood
- Low blood pressure, lightheadedness or fainting
If you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of an embolism, go directly to the nearest emergency room.
Risks of blood clots
Everyone is at risk for blood clots. Here are some factors that can increase your risk:
- Hospitalization and surgery
More than 50% of blood clots occur during or soon after a hospital stay or surgery. This is primarily due to a lack of movement, which is essential for pumping blood to your heart.
- Being immobile
Not moving for long periods of time due to bed rest or extended travel can inhibit circulation and increase your risk.
- Estrogen-based medications (e.g., birth control or hormone replacement therapy)
While higher levels of estrogen alone do not cause blood clots, it does increase the amount of blood clotting factors in the body.
- Injury or trauma
Any time a blood vessel gets damaged, the nearby blood can thicken and organize into a sticky clump or blood clot.
Cancer thickens the blood, which releases substances that make it sticky. This means it clots more easily, and treatment can increase the risk. Also, the higher your cancer stage, the greater your risk for a blood clot.
Obesity promotes a state of chronic inflammation. Inflammation is known to initiate the clotting process, so persistent inflammation puts you at a higher risk for dangerous blood clots.
Tips for preventing the complications of a blood clot
Here are a few ways you can help prevent blood clots, especially if you have one or more risk factors:
- Raise your legs 6 inches above your heart from time to time
- Wear compression stockings if your doctor prescribes them
- Follow your doctors exercise plan
- On long car trips, stop every 2 hours and walk for 5 – 10 minutes
- Do not stand or sit for more than 1 hour at a time
- Eat less salt
Treatment options for blood clots
When you seek medical treatment for a blood clot, the main goals are to prevent the clot from getting bigger, breaking loose (and traveling to the heart or lungs), and reducing your chances of recurrence. Here are the treatment options for blood clots:
- Blood thinners
While these medications will not break up existing blood clots, they can help prevent clots from getting bigger and decrease your risk of developing more clots.
These medications, often referred to as “clot busters,” are administered either by IV or via a catheter directly into the clot. These are typically reserved for those with severe blood clots.
- Vena cava filter
This method is used for those who are unable to take medications to thin their blood. A vena cava filter is inserted into the largest vein (the vena cava) in your abdomen. It is used to prevent clots that break loose from traveling to your lungs or heart.
- Compression stockings
Compression stockings are used to prevent blood from pooling in your lower extremities, which decreases your risk of blood clots.
Surgical thrombectomy is a surgical procedure used to remove a blood clot from inside your artery or vein in order to restore healthy blood flow throughout your body.
For expert care and blood clot treatments, call Carolina Vein Specialists at 336-536-6522. We have more than 20 years of experience helping resolve unsightly veins, leg pain, aching, throbbing, heaviness and restlessness associated with varicose veins, spider veins and blood clots.