6 Things to Know About Blood Clots
- A Dangerous Threat From WithinWhen you get a cut or a scrape, or you have surgery, cells and proteins in your blood produce clots to seal the wound and prevent too much blood loss. We need these clots to protect us, but sometimes blood clots form inside your blood vessels, causing a serious medical problem. By being aware of blood clots and how they form, you can work with your doctor to reduce your risk of this potentially life-threatening condition.
- The most common blood clots are called deep vein thrombosis (DVT).Blood clots can form anywhere in your body, but one of the most frequent types, DVT, occurs in a deep vein, typically in your legs. DVTs are dangerous because a part or the entire blood clot can break loose, and travel to your lungs, causing a blockage known as a pulmonary embolism. You can develop DVTs if you’re on certain medications that change the way your blood clots, or if you sit still for a long time, such as on an airplane. If you notice symptoms such as warmth and tenderness over a leg vein, pain, swelling, or skin redness, contact your doctor right away.
- Blood clots can affect anyone, but some people are more at risk.Blood clots can happen to anyone at any time, but there are some groups of people who have a higher risk of developing them. If you’re older than 65, take hormone replacements, are obese, have heart failure, have had a broken bone or surgery, or have had previous blood clots, you’re at increased risk. People who have to stay in bed or remain immobile for extended periods, such as during an illness or when traveling long distances, also are more prone to developing blood clots.
- You can take steps to reduce your risk of blood clots.Not all blood clots can be prevented, but there are some steps you can take to help increase your blood flow and reduce the risk of a clot developing. Avoid tight-fitting clothes (especially socks), unless your doctor prescribes special compression stockings to prevent swelling in your legs. Keep your legs moving; don’t sit or stand in one position for more than an hour. If you are taking a long plane or car trip, take frequent breaks to stretch your legs and walk around. Eating less salt and exercising regularly also helps reduce your risk.
- Your doctor can treat blood clots before they become dangerous.If your doctor diagnoses you with a blood clot, you’ll likely start taking blood thinners, or anticoagulants, to reduce your blood’s ability to clot. These drugs don’t break up existing clots, but they can prevent them from getting bigger and lower your risk of additional clots. Your doctor will need to monitor your dose closely while you’re on blood thinners to avoid potentially serious side effects. More severe clots may require additional medication to break up the clot, or a filter implanted in a vein in your abdomen to prevent clots that break loose from traveling to your lungs.
- Call 911 when you see symptoms of stroke, heart attack or pulmonary embolism.If a blood clot dislodges and moves, it may cause a life-threatening situation. If you experience any of signs or symptoms of a pulmonary embolism, heart attack or stroke, call 911 or seek emergency help immediately. These symptoms include chest pain; pain that moves to your upper arm, jaw or upper back; difficult or painful breathing; coughing up blood; rapid heartbeat; lightheadedness; sudden weakness or numbness of your face, arm or leg; sudden difficulty or inability to speak; or sudden changes in your vision.
- Blood clots can have lasting effects.Every year, between 300,000 and 600,000 people in the United States develop a blood clot inside a blood vessel, and between 10,000 to 100,000 die as a result. While most people who have a blood clot do survive, up to one-third will have another clot within 10 years, and half will live with long-term complications, called post-thrombotic syndrome. This may include pain, swelling, and discoloration or scaling of the skin where the clot was. By working with your doctor and learning your risk factors, you can take steps to prevent life-threatening complications and lower your risk of blood clots before they happen.
6 Things to Know About Blood Clots