Blood clots. Those two words can be terribly scary sometimes, but in reality, blood has the ability to naturally clot as a protective measure for our body. This is how the body stops bleeding. We have all seen a blood clot in the form of a scab and a bruise. But sometimes, there are blood clots when they are not supposed to be. When this happens, you can have a heart attack, stroke, and other potentially life-threatening medical problems.

We need our blood to clot to live. Blood clots are often a good thing, like when they keep us from bleeding heavily to life-threatening after a minor scratch on our leg, for example.

When you have an open wound, your blood vessels narrow so you don’t leak blood. The platelets then form blood clots (clots) around the wound. A special protein solidifies the group to reduce blood loss.

The dangerous type of blood clot occurs deep in the veins . When blood clots form in the veins, the blood flows very slowly. It’s like rush hour traffic inside your bloodstream, angering all the blood cells that are trying to help you keep you alive.

This type of blood clot is called deep vein thrombosis (DVT), and most of these blood clots occur after major surgery or serious illness when you are not moving for long periods of time. Most clots occur in the leg or thigh.

The real risk posed by DVT is when the blood clot breaks away from the vein. The embolus, or the blood clot that is released, can travel through the bloodstream and enter your arteries. Once there, the embolus can cut off circulation to your heart and lungs, causing different complications depending on the organ affected.

Potential signs of blood clots that you shouldn’t ignore

Here’s how you can tell when someone is experiencing a dangerous blood clot.

1. Swelling in a limb

As we just mentioned, this is a symptom of a type of blood clot known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT) that prevents blood flow in the circulatory system. DVT is especially dangerous because it prevents oxygen from reaching vital organs.

2. Leg pain or tenderness

A common symptom of DVT is pain or sensation in the leg, says the National Blood Clot Alliance. This pain is sometimes described as a cramp or Charley’s horse (muscle spasms).

3. Severe headache

A sudden and severe severe headache accompanied by difficulty seeing or speaking often indicates blood clots in the brain. You should check yourself if you have never received these pains and if, for some reason that you already know, you have the suspicion that it may be due to possible blood clots.

4. Abdominal pain

Severe abdominal pain can be the cause of a clot, also if vomiting or diarrhea is equally severe with it, this is not normal under any circumstances. These symptoms could indicate a blood clot in the abdomen. However, it could also indicate food poisoning and stomach viruses. The best is an immediate check-up.

5. Red streaks on the skin

Remember, a bruise is a form of a blood clot. But if you see red streaks running down the length of your veins, you should know that this is not a normal bruise. Seek immediate medical attention. These red streaks often make the limb feel warm to the touch.

6. Chest pain with deep breathing

Chest pain is classically described as pleural, a sharp pain that worsens when you take a deep breath.
These are classic signs of a pulmonary embolism caused by blood clots. In fact, the patient may have stable vital signs (blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, and oxygen saturation), but depending on the amount of blood clot in the lung and the amount of lung tissue affected, the vital signs may be abnormal. For example:

  • Shortness of breath: The person may have difficulty catching breath at rest, and shortness of breath is often worse with activity.
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Elevated respiratory rate (respiration)
  • Bluish discoloration of the skin and mucous membranes (cyanosis), due to decreased oxygen saturation (red blood cells that do not have oxygen molecules attached to them)
  • Decreased blood pressure

7. Unexplained cough

If you are not sick but are coughing for no reason, look out for other possible signs of a blood clot that we have already mentioned. These include fast heartbeat, chest pain, and shortness of breath. Also when the cough can produce bloody sputum (hemoptysis) it is obviously a sign that you have to urgently check it. If you notice any of these symptoms, call your doctor immediately.

Risk factors for blood clots

There are certain factors that can increase the risk of forming blood clots. For example, although it may seem hard to believe, being admitted to the hospital, especially if it is a long stay or if it is related to surgery, is enough to increase the chances of a clot.

Other risk factors can include:

  • Cancer
  • To smoke
  • The obesity
  • Certain birth control pills
  • Age, especially if you are over 65.
  • The pregnancy
  • Rest in bed or being sedentary for long periods of time.

How to prevent blood clots

Blood clots are among the most preventable types of blood conditions . There are several ways to lower your chances of developing, such as controlling your risk factors when possible. If you think you may be at risk due to genetic or behavioral factors in your own body, talk to your doctor.

Also, make sure your doctor is aware of all the medications you are taking and any family history of blood clotting disorders. If you think that you or a loved one is experiencing a blood clot, seek immediate medical attention. Call your doctor, or go to the hospital. A blood clot can be fatal. Don’t risk it.

By Dr. Eric Jackson

Dr. Eric Jackson provides primary Internal Medicine care for men and women and treats patients with bone and mineral diseases, diabetes, heart conditions, and other chronic illnesses.He is a Washington University Bone Health Program physician and is a certified Bone Densitometrist. Dr. Avery is consistently recognized in "The Best Doctors in America" list.

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