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Understanding Blood Clots: Symptoms, causes, and treatment

Dr. Ajay KohliOct 14, 2022

A Blood Clot or Venous Thromboembolism (VTE) accounts for 1 in 4 deaths worldwide, making it an urgent public health concern. Symptoms and recommended treatments for Blood Clots depend on their location and severity. By knowing the most common signs, the types of Blood Clots and associated risk factors, you can reduce the incidence of this killer condition by an estimated 70 per cent to live a longer, happier, and healthy life.

Blood Clots

Contents

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What are Blood Clots?

Blood Clots are masses of blood that form inside your blood vessels when the consistency of blood changes from liquid to somewhat solid. Blood Clotting is a life-saving body process that kicks in response to an injury or cut to prevent excessive bleeding. However, when Blood Clots form or move into places they aren't necessary, such as the head or lungs, they can be dangerous, causing serious complications, disability, or even death. 

When a clot develops in one of the veins situated deep within the body, it is referred to as deep vein thrombosis (DVT), whereas when DVT breaks off and travels to the lungs, it is called pulmonary embolism. You can also develop Blood Clots in other body regions, causing ischemic strokes, heart attacks, kidney disease, kidney failure, and pregnancy-related issues.

Signs and symptoms of Blood Clots

Symptoms vary from person to person depending on where the clot has formed and how severe they are. For most people with Blood Clots, there are no symptoms at all whatsoever. Whereas for some others, the symptoms appear gradually and commonly include the following.

  • Arm or leg: Swelling, cramps, warmth, bluish or reddish discolouration of the skin

  • Lung: Sharp chest pain, rapid breathing, racing heart rate, breathing pain, and unexpected bloody cough

  • Head: Vision issues, difficulty speaking, seizures, severe headaches, and dizziness

  • Heart: Chest pain, shortness of breath, and left arm pain

  • Abdomen: Severe stomach pain, vomiting, and diarrhoea

So, if you suspect grappling with any of these symptoms, seek medical consultation immediately. 

What causes Blood Clots?

Anything that can obstruct blood flow or interfere with the natural clotting process can trigger the formation of Blood Clots. And this is more likely to happen if you possess particular risk factors, such as physical trauma, pregnancy, obesity, etc. The slow building-up of fatty plaques inside blood vessels, followed by its sudden rupture, can elicit the body's clotting process as well, leading to potentially fatal conditions such as heart attack or stroke.

Types of Blood Clots 

There are two types of Blood Clots: 

  • Arterial clots: These clots originate in the arteries and produce instant symptoms. Because they restrict oxygen from reaching vital organs, they can cause intense pain and other life-threatening complications such as stroke, heart attack, severe stomach pain, and paralysis.

  • Venous clots: These clots grow slowly in the veins and gradually manifest symptoms such as swelling, redness, numbness, and pain.

Treatment of Blood Clot

Having a Blood Clot is serious because, if left untreated, it can lead to devastating consequences. That is why this silent killer requires immediate attention. Generally, treatment for Blood Clots involves administering blood thinners or anticoagulants in the hospital for 5 to 10 days after diagnosis, especially for people considered the most serious or in the acute phase of the condition. 

For some individuals, however, the treatment can take weeks, months, or years following hospitalisation to stop clots from returning or keep the existing ones from growing larger. Heparin, warfarin, rivaroxaban, etc., are the commonly prescribed blood thinners in most hospital settings. But with advancements in drug science, other novel oral anticoagulants (NOAC) can also be prescribed. 

Some individuals may also require other interventions in addition to anticoagulants. 

  • Thrombolytic medications like tissue plasminogen activators, streptokinase and urokinase are given to dissolve Blood Clots, particularly in people who have a pulmonary embolism. 

  • Surgery (thrombectomy or catheter-directed thrombolysis) is recommended in cases where a large Blood Clot stops the blood supply to vital tissues and organs, such as the arms and legs.

  • Implantable devices likestents and filters usually are used to keep blood vessels open or trap and prevent large clots from reaching the heart and lungs. They are used when conventional medical treatments, like blood thinners, do not work for patients.

Diagnosis of Blood Clot

Blood Clots can occur for varied reasons while sharing symptoms with other conditions. Therefore, your doctor will note your medical history and perform a physical examination. They may also order the following tests. 

  • Ultrasound of arms and legsto check the blood flow in your arteries and veins.

  • Blood test or D-Dimer test to know how well your blood can clot.

  • Venography/ Angiography for analysing your blood flow and looking for Blood Clots after injecting a special dye into your blood vessels and taking X-rays. 

  • Imaging tests (MRI, MRA, or CT scan) toscan your entire body and confirm the presence of Blood Clots. Occasionally, aventilation-perfusion scan is used to measure air and blood flow in the lungs. 

How can I prevent Blood Clots?

Anyone can develop Blood Clots regardless of age, gender, or race. But whilst medications are considered the ideal way to prevent or treat Blood Clots, steps that you can take to still reduce your chances of developing a Blood Clot, like controlling your risk factors, when possible, include the following.

  • Knowing your family history of clotting disorders if any.

  • Learning about the warning signs of Blood Clots.

  • Taking medications regularly to control other health problems such as high blood pressure and diabetes.

  • Staying up to date with cancer screening.

  • Wearing compression stockings if prescribed.

Other measures encompass the following.

  • A regular physical activity that you enjoy.

  • Exercising five days a week for 30 to 45 minutes.

  • Taking steps to quit smoking.

  • Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet.

  • Drinking plenty of fluids to stay hydrated.

  • Maintaining a healthy weight as per your body frame size.

  • Wearing loose-fitting clothes, socks, or stockings.

Risk factors for Blood Clots

Often, many factors can increase your odds of unnatural clotting, with some being more common than others. But you are at higher risk if you:

  • Are on long hospital stay due to illness or surgery 

  • Have had major surgery on the pelvis, abdomen, hip, or knee (in the last 3 months)

  • Have a personal or family history of Blood Clots 

  • Have chronic medical conditions, such as HIV, heart and lung diseases, or diabetes 

  • Are affected by coronavirus  

  • Have cancer and are taking cancer treatment

  • Have varicose veins or vasculitis

  • Have a severe injury due to physical trauma 

  • Use of contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy

  • Are aged above 55 years

  • Are obese and overweight

  • Are a smoker

  • Get dehydrated a lot

  • Have a poor diet pattern

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Here’s a list of common questions and answers surrounding Blood Clots.

What are the signs and symptoms of Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)?

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When you have DVT, depending on where the Blood Clot is located, you may experience mild to severe discomfort. If the clot is in your arms or legs, you may have:

  • Swelling

  • Intense pain or tenderness

  • Reddish or bluish skin discolouration 

  • Warm skin

 So, make sure to see your doctor and let them know your symptoms

What are the warning signs of a pulmonary embolism (PE or Blood Clot in the lung)?

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These are the warning signs. 

  • Sharp chest pain that gets worse with each breath

  • Sudden shortness of breath

  • Sensation of pounding heart

  • Unexplained cough, sometimes with bloody mucus

Remember that PE is a medical emergency and that you should seek medical attention immediately when it happens!

How long should I sit at one time?

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The general rule is to sit for no more than 30 minutes at one go, followed by a few minutes of walking or exercise. Because sitting for long stretches has devastating consequences on your health, increasing the risk of metabolic syndromes like cardiovascular diseases and cancer.

How long can a Blood Clot remain in the body?

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Once the presence of a Blood Clot is established, it is important to start the treatment right away with anticoagulant medications that work by prolonging the clotting process. So, it may take about 3 to 6 months for the clot to disappear completely.

References

  1. https://doi.org/10.1111/jth.13031

  2. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/dvt/index.html

  3. https://www.stoptheclot.org/learn_more/signs-and-symptoms-of-blood-clots/

  4. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/thrombosis

  5. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/venous-thromboembolism/symptoms-and-diagnosis-of-venous-thromboembolism-vte

  6. https://medlineplus.gov/bloodclots.html

Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. Please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.

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