What is a blood clot?
Blood clotting is a normal process that the body uses to seal small cuts on blood vessel walls to stop bleeding.
However, sometimes a blood clot, made of near-solid masses of blood, can build up in an artery or vein. Clots can prevent blood from flowing, either toward your heart or another region of the body, such as your legs or brain. They can develop anywhere in the body and among any age group, although the risk of developing blood clots increases with age.
Why does a person develop a blood clot?
You could develop a blood clot when you are hypercoagulable, which means your body is in a state with a tendency of forming clots.
There are several reasons why you might develop a blood clot, or be in a hypercoagulable state. A blood clot might develop when a person has a large amount of inflammation. Clots can also develop because you have a family history or are genetically predisposed. Also, people with cancer, a recent surgery or chronic conditions, such as liver disease, can be at an increased risk for developing blood clots. Pregnant women are at an increased risk for developing blood clots, as well.
You might also develop blood clots if you’re on long-term bed rest or if you’re sitting for long periods of time, such as when flying or driving long distances.
What are the symptoms of a blood clot?
Symptoms will vary, depending on where a blood clot develops in the body. In certain instances, a serious blood clot can lead to loss of limb, a stroke or intestinal problems, depending on where the clot is.
For example, if you lose blood flow to your legs, your nerves could begin to die, which might cause your leg to hurt. Also, your skin might be warm or have a blue or red tint to it. Clots that develop in larger veins are called deep-vein thrombosis.
A heart attack can technically be a blood clot to your heart’s arteries. Symptoms include chest pain, pain in the left arm, sweating and difficulty breathing.
A blood clot in your lungs can cause a pulmonary embolism, oftentimes when a blood clot in your leg breaks loose and travels through your bloodstream to your lungs. A person can die from a large blood clot or multiple blood clots in the lungs. About half of the patients who develop a pulmonary embolism don’t have symptoms. However, symptoms can include shortness of breath, chest pain or coughing up blood.
Meanwhile, if a blood clot blocks blood flow to your brain, you could have a stroke, feel weak or have trouble seeing or speaking. You could also suffer a seizure.
How are blood clots treated?
Blood clots are treated a variety of ways. Your doctor might choose to treat your clot nonsurgically, using blood thinners.
A doctor might also use thrombolytic agents, such as a tissue plasminogen activator, which can dissolve the clot. In some potentially serious instances, a surgeon might need to remove your clot. A clot can also be sucked out using a special type of medical vacuum or removed using a catheter.
Source: Dr. Ronald Magee, a vascular surgeon at Oklahoma Heart Hospital South;
Radiological Society of North America; National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute; The Mayo Clinic; Washington University School of Medicine;
and American Society of Hematology.