You probably know blood clots are serious and that you don't want one. But what exactly are they, why are they dangerous, and what can you do to avoid them? Here's what you should know.
What Is a Blood Clot?
Blood clots, also known as coagulation, are formed by platelets and proteins in your blood to help stop bleeding when a blood vessel is damaged. They form a small mass that works as a plug while the body heals itself. Once the injury is gone, the blood clot is reabsorbed into the bloodstream. However, sometimes clots form for no reason or don't dissolve like they should and become a dangerous health risk.
When a blood clot is set loose in your blood vessels, you run the risk of it getting caught somewhere in your circulatory system. These blockages can cause swelling and pain, and prevent good oxygen flow to your organs, which can lead to permanent damage.
Some risk factors that might cause you to develop a blood clot include:
- Recent surgery
- A broken bone (in particular, your hip, pelvis, or leg) or bad bump or bruise
- Being overweight or having a heart condition
- Suffering from varicose veins
- Having an immediate family member who's had a blood clot
- Spending a lot of time in a bed, chair, or seat
Conditions Caused by Blood Clots
A deep vein thrombosis is when a blood clot forms somewhere in deep tissue veins -- most commonly in the thigh or calf, though they sometimes occur in the arms and groin. Occasionally, a piece can break off from the main clot, becoming a thrombosis, and then travel to the lungs and cause a pulmonary embolism. The clots block important arteries in the lungs, preventing them from sending oxygen to the rest of the body. This can cause permanent damage to the lung, and if enough arteries become blocked, it can be fatal. Signs of a pulmonary embolism include sudden shortness of breath, sharp or stabbing chest pain, a rapid heart rate (even when standing still), or an unexplained cough.
Signs and Symptoms of a Blood Clot
Because of the many health risks of a deep vein thrombosis, it's important to recognize the signs of a blood clot. Call your health care provider right away if you're experiencing swelling, soreness, cramping, pain, a warm spot in your arm or leg, or an abnormal red or bluish color on your skin.
Treatment and Prevention
There are plenty of ways to prevent and treat blood clots. You may have to make a few lifestyle adjustments, especially if you have any of the risk factors, but this is a small price to pay for good health. First, to improve your circulation, occasionally raise your legs six inches above your heart -- you could easily work this movement into an exercise routine or raise the foot of your bed about six inches. If you have to sit or stand for long periods, change your position often and avoid crossing your legs.
You can also wear loose-fitting clothes, socks, or stockings to allow for good blood flow. Ask your doctor about compression socks or stockings, which can help, and exercises that will discourage clot formation. In some cases, your doctor might prescribe you with a blood thinner. It's important to take these medications as directed and follow any safety instructions that come with them.
Blood clots have the potential to become a very serious health emergency. Talk to your health care provider about your current risk for developing a clot and how you can better promote blood vessel and circulatory health.