We think they can’t happen to us. Unfortunately, blood clots can happen to anyone, even seemingly healthy, active individuals. When left untreated, blood clots are potentially life-changing – or even life-threatening.Photo by RyAwesome
The good news is you can learn to recognize the symptoms of a blood clot. If a blood clot occurs, you can seek medical treatment before it’s too late by educating yourself on the warning signs of a blood clot.
What Are Blood Clots?
When blood vessels are damaged, such as after an injury, the body will attempt to repair the damage through coagulation. Coagulation occurs when platelets (a type of blood cell) and fibrin (proteins in your plasma) rush to the site of injury to prevent further damage. Often, the coagulation of blood is a normal, healthy function of the human body. Without it, you could lose too much blood following even minor injuries.
But sometimes coagulation occurs in the absence of injury. “Thrombus” is the medical term for a blood clot, which can occur in a vein or an artery. During thrombus, some of your blood will transform from liquid to a gel-like state when excess platelets and fibrin crowd the area. The blood clot can then hinder vital blood flow to the heart or other vital parts of the circulatory system.
Types Of Blood Clots
There are many types of blood clots and clots have the potential to form in most parts of the body. However, certain types of blood clots are much more common than others. Most types of blood clots have specific types of warning signs, although blood clots can sometimes occur without symptoms. Only a qualified medical professional can determine whether you may be experiencing a blood clot, so if you notice any of these warning signs in yourself or a loved one, seek immediate medical attention.
Here are four of the most common types of blood clots and the symptoms that often accompany them:
- Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) – Veins carry blood toward the heart, and when a blood clot forms in the deep veins, it can block circulation when blood cannot travel back to the heart. Usually, DVT affects veins in the legs.
Signs of DVT include:
- Tenderness, swelling, or warmth in a limb
- Cramping in a limb
- Skin discoloration
- Pulmonary Embolism – Pulmonary embolisms are extremely dangerous and can be fatal. A pulmonary embolism occurs when a DVT or other type of blood clot breaks off and travels to the lungs.
Signs of a pulmonary embolism include:
- Pain in the chest
- Shortness of breath
- Coughing (can occur with mucus)
- Increased heart rate
- Ischemic Stroke – Strokes are serious, life-threatening conditions. Around 80% of strokes are classified as ischemic, which occur when not enough blood can reach the brain, often causing permanent damage. Arteries carry blood away from the heart toward other parts of the body. When a blood clot blocks a brain artery, the result can be an ischemic stroke.
Some of the signs of a stroke include:
- Slurred speech
- Weakness or paralysis in the face
- Vision problems
- Severe headache with sudden onset
- Weakness in the limbs
- Difficulty walking
- Heart Attack – Many people are surprised to learn that a heart attack is a type of blood clot. The medical term for a heart attack is “myocardial infarction.” Myocardial infarction occurs when a blood clot blocks the flow of blood to an artery of the heart. If blood and oxygen cannot reach the heart for a long enough period of time, the muscles of the heart can become damaged or even die. The signs and symptoms of a heart attack sometimes differ for men and women, with women being slightly more likely to experience symptoms like nausea and vomiting.
The most common signs of heart attack for both sexes include:
- Pressure or pain in the chest
- Pain in the left arm
- Pain in the jaw or shoulder
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea and vomiting
- Cold sweats
Photo by RyAwesome
While blood clots can happen to anyone, certain risk factors can raise your likelihood of developing one. Women who take birth control or who are pregnant may be at greater risk of developing a blood clot, although overall the risk is greater for men. Sedentary lifestyles, diabetes, and obesity can also lead to blood clots, so regular exercise combined with a heart-healthy diet is essential for preventing blood clots. Your risk is also greater is you are over the age of forty-five, have undergone major surgery, been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, or have certain types of cancer.
Many blood clots are caused by atherosclerosis, a term used to describe plaque that builds up in the arteries. Smoking and high cholesterol levels are associated with atherosclerosis and therefore also elevate your blood clot risk.
Preventing Blood Clots
If you believe you may be at risk for a blood clot, talk to your doctor about how you can lower your risk. Your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes either alone or in combination with drug therapy. Xarelto, a prescription blood thinner, is one type of drug used to prevent blood clots in people diagnosed with atrial fibrillation. Some over-the-counter medications, like aspirin, are also used to prevent blood clots, but always talk to your doctor before starting or stopping any medication, even those that can be bought without a prescription.
Whether or not your doctor recommends a prescription drug to prevent blood clots, healthy lifestyle choices can improve overall cardiovascular health. A diet rich in whole, unprocessed foods like vegetables, fruits, lean meats, and fish can help protect your cardiovascular system. For a healthy heart, the American Heart Association also recommends regular aerobic exercise and strength training. Quitting smoking as soon as possible can also lower your risk, as smoking damages blood vessels and makes it easier for clots to form.
Every year in the United States, approximately 100,000 people die from blood clots. Fortunately, many deaths can be prevented. By learning the warning signs, you can seek treatment and prevent the often catastrophic consequences of blood clots. The life you save could be a loved one’s – or your own.
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