Dr. Ben Wedro practices emergency medicine at Gundersen Clinic, a regional trauma center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His background includes undergraduate and medical studies at the University of Alberta, a Family Practice internship at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and residency training in Emergency Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
Blood is a liquid that flows within blood vessels. It is
constantly in motion as the heart pumps blood through arteries to the different organs and cells of
the body. The blood is returned back to the heart by the veins. Veins are
squeezed when muscles in the body contract and push the blood back to the heart.
Blood clotting is an important mechanism to help the body repair injured
blood vessels. Blood consists of:
red blood cells containing
carry oxygen to cells and remove
carbon dioxide (the waste product of metabolism),
white blood cells that fight
platelets that are part of the clotting process of the body, and
blood plasma, which contains fluid, chemicals and
proteins that are important for
Complex mechanisms exist in the bloodstream to form
clots where they are needed. If the lining of the blood vessels becomes damaged,
platelets are recruited to the injured area to form an initial plug. These
activated platelets release chemicals that start the clotting cascade, using a series of
clotting factors produced by the body. Ultimately, fibrin is formed, the protein that crosslinks
with itself to form a mesh that makes up the final blood clot.
The medical term for a blood clot is a thrombus (plural=
thrombi). When a
thrombus is formed as part of a normal repair process of the body, there is
little consequence. Unfortunately, there are times when a thrombus (blood clot) will form
when it is not needed, and this can have potentially significant consequences.
What does a blood clot look like?
Picture of how red blood cells and platelets form a blood clot
Deep venous thrombosis, or DVT, is the medical term for a blood clot in that deeper system. The symptoms of pain, swelling, and redness are similar to those of infection, and sometimes it's hard to tell the two apart, except by using ultrasound to check the flow of blood in the veins. But the DVT is just the harbinger (sign) of potential disaster. If a clot has formed, it can grow and break off and float downstream. Downstream means through the heart and into the lungs, where it can get lodged and make the lungs fail. A clot that breaks free and moves is called an embolus, and a pulmonary (lung) embolus is a big deal and a killer.