What is a Blood Clot?

Older patient holds knees from pain of a potential blood clot

Having your blood clot when you have a cut is a natural part of the healing process. However, when blood clots move in your bloodstream or form in the wrong place, they can also cause serious health issues.

Venous thromboembolism, or VTE, refers to a dangerous condition of blood forming a clot within the body’s veins. When a blood clot forms abnormally inside a vein it can travel through the heart to the lungs and cause serious, potentially fatal complications. This article will help you understand everything you need to know about venous blood clots.

Patient hold painful chest from a potential blood clot

What is a Blood Clot?

A blood clot is a gel of cells, platelets, and proteins. They form together as a kind of plug to help stop bleeding when your body has been injured. When the bleeding stops, the blood clot naturally dissolves over time. 

Sometimes a blood clot can form in a place where it shouldn’t. Blood clots can form for many different reasons and can occur in veins or arteries. Arteries take blood away from the heart and veins take blood back to the heart.

Conditions involving arterial blood clots: 

  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Atrial fibrillation

Conditions involving venous blood clots:

  • Deep vein thrombosis (DVT), usually occur in the legs
  • Pulmonary embolism, where the blood clot is in the lungs
  • Pregnancy issues
  • Cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST), a blood clot in the brain that can cause stroke

If a blood clot forms abnormally, time is of the essence. The problem is that you may not know about your condition until it causes complications. What are the warning signs of a blood clot?

Patient grabs painful knee from potential blood clot

What are the Warning Signs of a Blood Clot?

This article is going to focus on venous blood clots, in particular lower extremity DVT. While venous blood clots can be sneaky and form without warning, most do show signs and symptoms and if you know what to look for, you can seek out treatment. Some of the signs you may have a venous blood clot or DVT include:

  • Color changes in an extremity, particularly redness
  • Swelling in the legs 
  • Unexplained leg pain
  • Veins that are painful to touch
  • Abnormally warm skin

A pulmonary embolism, or PE, can be a further complication from a lower extremity venous blood clot. Essentially, this occurs when a piece of the blood clot travels through the veins from the leg through the heart to the lungs. Symptoms of a pulmonary embolism include shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, chest pain, and cough. 

If you experience any of these symptoms, see a doctor right away. These symptoms could be life threatening.

Computer graphic illustrates what a blood clot in the veins looks like and how it obstructs the flow of blood through the body

How Are Venous Blood Clots Treated?

Depending on the severity of the blood clot, you may be diagnosed and treated in an office setting or you may need to be hospitalized. Venous blood clots, also known as DVT and PE, are typically treated with medications called anticoagulants. Typically, these are taken as a pill but at times an injection or IV infusion may be needed. These medications keep your blood from clumping together. They stop new clots from forming and slow the growth of already-formed clots. They are typically given for a short course of 3 to 6 months, but at times lifelong anticoagulation is needed. Anticoagulants are highly effective in treating and preventing blood clots. However, the medication can also be a problem if you have an injury and you need a blood clot to form. Any head injuries or abnormal bleeding should be reported to your doctor. 

Another treatment option for extensive venous blood clots is called thrombolysis. This is done through a minimally invasive procedure where medication is given to help dissolve the clot or the clot may be physically broken up and removed. 

Depending on the risk, an IVC (inferior vena cava) filter may be surgically inserted to prevent a pulmonary embolism from occurring. In some situations, this is left in permanently, or it may be removed after a certain length of time.

Son kisses mother on cheek with sun backlighting scene

Can You Reduce Your Risk of Experiencing a Life-Threatening Blood Clot?

Venous blood clots can be caused by many different factors, some of which can be controlled. At times, there is unfortunately not a provoking factor other than a strong family history or genetic predisposition for clotting. You may be referred to a hematologist to evaluate for this. 

Risk factors for developing a venous blood clot include recent injury, surgery, bedrest, prolonged travel, smoking, pregnancy, hormone replacement therapy or oral contraceptives, cancer, and obesity. Some actions that can be taken to help prevent a venous blood clot include maintaining a healthy weight, leading an active lifestyle, avoiding smoking and staying hydrated. 

For a sedentary job or lifestyle, it is recommended that you take breaks to walk around for a short time every couple hours. You may also choose to get foot petals or a mini elliptical for under your desk to keep your legs moving while you are sitting or working. 

For prolonged travel via car or plane, it is recommended that you wear compression hose and take breaks to walk either at rest stops or up and down the aisle when permitted to do so. Ideally, this should be done every couple hours. If for some reason this is not possible, calf muscle pump exercises can also be utilized. Staying hydrated is also important. 

While there are many factors that can contribute to developing a blood clot, the best way to prevent this is to lead a healthy, active lifestyle.  

The Ellison Vein Institute treats people suffering from venous disease. Our team specializes in treating unsightly varicose veins, swelling and ulcers, as well as dangerous blood clots. Don’t hesitate to contact us to schedule a vein screening and protect yourself from venous conditions.

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