What Are Blood Clots?
Blood clotting is a normal process that prevents excessive bleeding when you have an injury or cut. The clot acts as a plug on an injured blood vessel to stop bleeding. But when clots form inside blood vessels, they can be dangerous and require fast diagnosis and treatment.
Blood clots happen when the platelets and proteins in your blood work together to form a semi-solid mass. When this mass forms inside your veins or arteries and does not dissolve, it can cause serious problems. If a blood clot forms in a vein, it can keep the blood from properly returning to the heart. In this case, blood will back up into a vein and cause pain and swelling. This clot can detach and travel to the lungs, preventing blood flow, damaging the lungs and potentially causing death if treatment isn’t immediate.
If a clot forms in an artery, it can break away and lodge in the heart and cause a heart attack, or in the brain and cause a stroke.
Baptist Health is known for advanced, superior care for patients with blood clots and their diagnosis, management and treatment. You will appreciate timely appointments and a professional, friendly atmosphere where we take time to listen to your concerns. At Baptist Health, you have access to the region’s most comprehensive, multidisciplinary team of specialists and innovative therapies, including many available only through specialized clinical trials. In every way, we work to demonstrate the utmost in excellent care to those who trust us with their health.
Signs and Symptoms
The symptoms of a blood clot depend upon where the clot is inside the body.
Symptoms of a blood clot in the heart:
- Chest heaviness or pain
- Discomfort in other areas of the upper body
- Excessive sweating
- Fast heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
Symptoms of a blood clot in the brain:
- Difficulty speaking or understanding speech
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Sudden and severe headache
- Vision problems
- Weakness of the face, arms or legs
Symptoms of a blood clot in the arm or leg:
- Redness and warmth
- Sudden or gradual pain
- Sudden weakness in the arm or leg
Symptoms of a blood clot in the lung:
- Coughing up blood
- Difficulty breathing
- Racing heart
- Sharp chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Sweating, fever
Symptoms of a blood clot in the abdomen:
- Severe abdominal pain
Diagnosis of a blood clot may require one or more of the following tests:
Blood test: Blood tests check the levels of certain fats, cholesterol, sugar and protein in the blood that could indicate heart conditions.
Computed tomographic angiography (CT): This non-invasive test can show the arteries in the abdomen, pelvis and legs. This test is particularly useful in patients with pacemakers or stents.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): A large magnet, radio waves and a computer are used to produce pictures of the heart and blood vessels.
Ultrasound: An ultrasound device can measure blood pressure on various points of your arm or leg, which will help the physician determine if you have any blockages and how quickly blood flows through your arteries.
Venography: This special X-ray test includes injection of a special dye into a large vein in the foot or ankle and X-rays that shows how blood flows in the legs and feet and to locate a clot.
Certain behaviors and lifestyle factors can increase your chance of developing a blood clot in veins or arteries, including:
- Being overweight, especially if you smoke and/or have high blood pressure
- High blood pressure or high cholesterol
- Sitting for long periods of time
- Smoking, especially combined with other risk factors
- Supplementing estrogen (birth control pills, hormone replacement), especially if you smoke or are overweight
Risk factors that could contribute to blood clots include:
Age: The risk of blood clots increases for people over the age of 60.
Cancer: Some cancers – like pancreatic, ovarian and lung cancer – can increase levels of substances that help blood clots form. Chemotherapy can compound that risk. Women taking tamoxifen or raloxifene for breast cancer are also at a higher risk of clots.
Diabetes: Diabetes increases the risk of plaque buildup in the blood vessels, which can cause blood clots.
Heart Disease: Cardiovascular disease, particularly heart failure, makes blood clots in the heart more likely.
Pregnancy: The baby pressing on veins in the pelvis can slow blood return from the legs, increasing a woman’s risk of clots.
Surgery: This is a major cause of clots, so medication to prevent clots may be given before and after major surgery.
While some risk factors like age and heredity cannot be controlled, there are ways you can help to prevent a blood clot:
Keep blood flowing: If you sit for long periods of time, make efforts to get up and walk around more frequently to prevent blood from pooling and then thickening into a clot. If you are on bedrest or unable to stand, ask your doctor about appropriate leg and foot exercises.
Practice good heart health: Watch what you eat, exercise (as advised by your physician) and avoid smoking. Smoking and being overweight are two major, preventable causes of blood clots in the heart.
Take anticoagulants before/after surgery: Before and after certain types of major surgery, your physician may prescribe blood thinners. Take them as directed.
Prognosis for a person with a blood clot depends upon the size of the clot and where it is. Early diagnosis and timely treatment are important for better outcomes and fewer complications.
Treatment and Recovery
Depending upon where a blood clot is located, no treatment may be needed, If treatment is necessary, it may include:
- Blood thinners: Blood thinners prevent new clots from forming. They may be prescribed before or after surgery or for a diagnosed clotting disorder.
- Clot-dissolving medications: These medications may be used to dissolve dangerous clots, improve blood flow and prevent damage to tissues and organs.
A surgeon may remove a large or life-threatening clot via a thin, flexible catheter threaded through the blood vessels.
Potential complications of blood clots can include:
Pulmonary embolism: This potentially life-threatening condition occurs when a clot breaks off and travels through the bloodstream to the lung.
: If a blood clot travels to the kidneys, it can cause fluid and waste to build up in the kidneys, which can cause high blood pressure, kidney damage and kidney failure.
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT): If a clot develops in the arm or leg, it can cause pain and swelling. If the clot breaks off, it can travel to the lungs.
Pregnancy complications: Blood clots can cause a pulmonary embolism as well as premature labor, miscarriage and maternal death.
Heart attack: A blood clot that breaks away in an artery can lodge in the heart and cause a heart attack.
Stroke: A blood clot that breaks away in an artery can lodge in the brain and cause a stroke.
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