What is a blood clot?
Normally, blood clotting is a natural mechanism of the body that prevents excessive blood loss when a blood vessel is injured. Platelets, proteins, and blood cells in the blood aggregate together to form the blood clot.
However, clots that form inside the vessels without an obvious injury are not normal and may be dangerous. Blood clots are semi-solid masses of blood that may be immobile (thrombosis) and impede blood flow or dislodge to other parts of the body (embolism). Abnormal clots can be formed in arteries or veins. Depending on their location, this can result in tissue damage (clot in an artery) or pain and swelling (clot in a vein). Deep vein thrombosis is a clot in a major vein of the extremities, pelvis, and other areas. Deep vein clots, if dislodged, can travel through veins through the lungs to the arteries in the lungs. This is referred to as a pulmonary embolism and can be deadly. Blood clots can also lead to a heart attack or stroke.
What does a blood clot feel like?
A blood clot itself may not be something that you directly feel. However, the signs and symptoms of blood clots vary depending on their location.
- When clots are present in an artery to the heart:
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Shortness of breath
- Jaw, neck, shoulder, or arm pain
- When clots are present in an artery of the brain:
- When clots are present in a vein in the arms or legs:
- Sudden or gradual pain
- When clots are present in an artery of the lungs:
- Sharp chest pain
- Abnormal heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- Coughing up blood
- When clots are present in the artery of the abdomen:
- When clots are present in vein of the kidney:
- Blood in the urine
- Nausea or vomiting
- High blood pressure
- Sudden severe leg swelling
- Trouble breathing
- Pain on the sides of the abdomen, legs or thighs
Get medical help immediately, once you notice these symptoms.
What puts you at risk for blood clots?
The risk factors vary for clots forming in the artery (arterial clots) and the clots forming in the veins (venous clots). Each risk factor initiates clotting differently.
Some of the major risk factors in developing blood clots are:
- Prolonged inactivity
- Certain types of cancer
- Oral contraceptives
- Age over 60 years
- Family history of blood clots
- High cholesterol levels
- Long-standing inflammatory diseases
- High blood pressure
- Certain surgeries
How are blood clots detected?
Tests to evaluate patients for blood clots include:
- Venous ultrasound
- Doppler ultrasound
- MR angiography
- Computed tomography (CT) angiography of the chest, abdomen, pelvis, head and neck
- Cerebral angiography
- D-Dimer test
- Chest X-ray
- Pulmonary angiogram
- Duplex ultrasound
In addition to the above tests, other tests may also be performed to rule out any underlying conditions.
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How are blood clots dissolved?
The blood clots can be dissolved using the following:
- Blood thinners (Anticoagulants): Prevent the formation of clots.
- Thrombolytics: Medication that helps in dissolving the clots.
- Catheter-directed thrombolysis: A procedure in which a catheter is used to deliver the clot-dissolving medicine at the site.
- Thrombectomy: Surgical removal of clots.
Catheter-directed thrombolysis or thrombectomy is considered for arterial clots. Blood thinners and other medications can be used for venous clots.
What precautions should be taken if you have blood clots?
Some of the dos and don’ts to follow are:
- Avoid getting injured.
- Avoid foods such as kale, spinach, brussels sprouts, chard, green tea, alcohol and cranberry juice when you are taking blood-thinning medications.
- Avoid long hours of inactivity.
- Exercises, such as walking or swimming, may help healing of the clots.
- Avoid taking any medicines without the consent of the physician as some drugs may serious interact with blood clot medications.
- Use compression stockings.
- Take breaks while going for a long drive.
- Keep your weight under control.
- Talk to others if you feel depressed or anxious.
- Be careful during pregnancy.
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