Blood Clots – How They Form and Common Causes
Blood clotting, also called coagulation, is a process that occurs in the blood vessel during injury to prevent too much bleeding. Both platelets and plasma proteins play important roles in this process. Typically, blood clots spontaneously dissolve following an injury. However, there are blood clots that form without any apparent injury or do not dissolve normally.
The blood clot types depend on whether they occur in the veins or arteries. Veins are the blood vessels that transport deoxygenated blood away from the body’s organs and back to the heart. Arteries are the blood vessels that carry oxygenated blood away from the heart to the organs. A blood clot in the leg(s), arm(s), pelvis, or major vein is called deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
Moreover, a blood clot that forms in the arteries is called arterial thrombosis. Any clot that occurs and blocks an artery leading to the heart muscles can lead to Myocardial Infarction or “heart attack”. When a blood clot in the lung occurs, it can block the flow of blood in the airway, which causes breathing problems. This is called a pulmonary embolism. If the clot forms in an artery in the brain, it can cause a stroke.
Here are some of the situations or conditions that are commonly considered as blood clot causes:
- Prolonged bed rest
- Sitting for a long time (i.e., long-haul flights, long-distance drives)
- During and after pregnancy
- Following a surgery
- Long-term use of intravenous (IV) catheter
- Use of birth control pills
- Hormone replacement therapy containing estrogen
Blood Clot Risk Factors
Many people are at risk of developing blood clots. However, certain people are at greater risk due to the following factors:
- Old age
- Sedentary or inactive lifestyle
- Being obese or overweight
- Family history of blood clots or particularly conditions like thrombophilia, antiphospholipid syndrome, or Factor V Leiden disease
- High blood pressure
- High levels of cholesterol
- Chronic inflammatory diseases
A person’s risk of developing blood clots becomes greater with multiple risk factors.
Blood Clots Symptoms
Recognizing early-stage blood clot symptoms can save your, or others’, life. Some people with clots will have no symptoms at all, yet most will experience signs and symptoms based on where the clot has formed. Any of the following warning signs should be reported to a medical professional immediately.
Signs of Blood Clot in the Brain:
- Trouble speaking
- Sudden changes in vision
- Inability to move one side of the body
- Loss of balance
Signs of Blood Clot in the Heart or Lungs:
- Difficulty breathing
- Coughing out blood
- Chest pain
- Pain that travels to the left arm
- Irregular heartbeat
Signs of Blood Clot in the Abdomen:
- Severe abdominal pain
- Abdominal fluid accumulation
- Bloody stool
Signs of Blood Clot in the Arm or Leg:
- Throbbing or cramping pain
Blood Clot Management and Treatment
Blood clot treatments will depend on the location of the clot and how likely the clot is to cause you harm. The goal of treatment is to dissolve the blood clot, prevent it from growing larger, and prevent it from breaking loose.
Here are the forms of treatment that your doctor may recommend:
The use of prescription medications is the most common way to resolve blood clots. Anticoagulants, otherwise called “blood thinners”, are used to prevent the formation of blood clots. The types of drugs used are direct oral anticoagulant medications (DOAC), warfarin, unfractionated heparin, and low molecular weight heparin. On the other hand, thrombolytics are prescribed to dissolve clots, yet they are not used as often as anticoagulants because they can cause bleeding.
These tight-fitting elastic stockings are worn on the feet up to the groin or calf. This is designed for deep vein thrombosis as it assists the blood in flowing out of the lower legs and back to the heart. This can also help relieve post-thrombotic syndrome (PTS) symptoms, especially pain.
This is a mesh tube inserted into the blood vessel to widen the vessel and allow the blood to flow easier. It is usually placed in the coronary artery. Stents are used in procedures like percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) and angioplasty.
Vena Cava Filters
A filter is installed in the largest vein of the body, the inferior vena cava, to catch blood clots before they can flow into the lungs, thereby preventing pulmonary embolism. A surgeon inserts the Vena Cava Filter by making a small incision in the vein around the groin or neck area. The insertion is guided by a series of X-ray procedures.
A surgical thrombectomy is necessary if the blood clot is large and can cause severe complications, such as severe damage to the nearby tissues. The surgeon cuts the area and removes the clot. A stent is then typically inserted to keep the blood vessel open.
Another surgery is called catheter-directed thrombolysis. A long tube is directed to the blood clot. Medication is administered directly to the clot, which causes it to dissolve.
Blood Clot Prevention
The occurrence of blood clots is highly preventable compared to other blood conditions. Like other diseases or disorders, regular check-ups are recommended to detect blood clots early. Those who have a family history of blood clotting disorders should also talk to their physician to know how to actively prevent the occurrence of clots.
As there are cases in which blood clots occur without symptoms, it is important to lower your risk through prevention. Here is a list of suggestions you can do to prevent blood clots:
- Quit smoking
- Drink plenty of fluids
- Avoid foods high in sodium
- Exercise regularly
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Avoid long periods of sitting
- Avoid crossing the legs
- Control your diabetes and hypertension
- Wear loose-fitting clothes
- Take your prescribed medications
- Raise the legs six inches above the heart occasionally
- Do not stand for more than an hour at a time
- Avoid placing pillows under the knees
Because blood clots can be a serious condition that could lead to diseases, disabilities, or any life-threatening conditions, it is important to be familiar with this medical condition, especially if you are at risk.
Remember that prevention is the best way to steer clear of debilitating illnesses. In case you notice any signs of blood clots, contact your doctor immediately.