The blood in our body is supposed to remain in a liquid state and keep flowing continuously and supply oxygen to the entire body. At the same time, it is also supposed to swiftly stop flowing out of the body whenever there is an injury or a cut.
When there is an opening made in the body due to a cut or an injury, blood clots can prove to be extremely beneficial in stopping the blood from spilling out of the body. However, if they are formed at places where they are not required, they can lead to life-threatening conditions such as an attack or a stroke.
So, what exactly is a blood clot?
A blood clot is a lump of blood which has changed its state to semisolid or gel from liquid. This clotting of blood is an important process which is necessary for preventing excessive loss of blood in case there is an injury. However, when the blood clots form inside the veins, it is not necessary that they will dissolve every time. When this happens, clotting can lead to severe conditions that can pose a threat to life.
As long as the blood clot is not moving in the body, it is not harmful. However, there is a chance that it can start moving and pose a threat. When the blood clot starts moving in the veins freely, it can easily reach vital organs such as the lungs and the heart. The lump can get stuck and prevent the flow of blood to these organs and result in a medical emergency.
What are the different kinds of blood clots?
The human circulatory system comprises vessels which are commonly known as vessels and arteries. These vessels are responsible for carrying blood and supplying it to every part of the body. Clotting of blood takes place in these vessels.
When the clotting of blood has occurred in the artery, it is known as an arterial clot. These clots can show symptoms instantly and require immediate medical help. The symptoms of this type of blood clot usually include excruciating pain, paralyzes of certain parts of the body, or sometimes both. It can also lead to life-threatening conditions such as a stroke or a heart attack.
When the clotting occurs in the veins, it is known as a venous clot. Although these types of clots start building gradually, they can still be dangerous and pose a threat to life. The severe kind of venous clot is called deep vein thrombosis.
What is deep vein thrombosis?
Deep vein thrombosis is a condition in which clotting occurs in one of the central veins present deep inside the body. This type of blood clotting usually affects the legs but can also occur in the arms, lungs, pelvis area, and the brain.
Pulmonary embolism, a venous blood clot type affecting the lungs, along with deep vein thrombosis, affects almost 900,000 people in the country every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is also a common type of blood clot that kills around 100,000 people in the country every year.
Diagnosing the presence of blood clots in the body is not possible without medical intervention. Even if a person is aware of the most common symptoms of a blood clot, they can simply figure out when to get medical attention.
In some cases, there might not be any signs or symptoms that make the condition evident. Sometimes, even when the symptoms start to appear, they can be very similar to symptoms of several other conditions.
Symptoms of a blood clot
The symptoms caused due to blood clotting can vary depending on the place of the body it has affected. The common symptoms include:
Blood clots occurring in the arm or leg
According to experts, blood clots most commonly occur in one of the legs, in the lower portion. When the clotting has happened in an arm or leg, it can cause various symptoms which include:
- Warm sensation in the area
- Discoloration which is usually red in color
The symptoms caused by blood clots will largely depend on how big the clot has grown. If the clot has not grown much, you might not experience any symptoms, or you might have some swelling in the calf which does not cause a lot of pain. But if the clot has grown to a large size, it can lead to excruciating pain and swelling that affects the entire leg. It is very uncommon for the blood clot to occur in both the arms and both the legs at the same point in time.
Blood clots occurring in the heart
When a blood clot occurs in the heart, it leads to a heart attack. Although it is not common for blood clots to form in the heart, it is still likely. When there is a blood clot in the heart, it can cause symptoms such as pain or heaviness in the chest. Some other symptoms include dizziness and breathlessness.
Blood clots occurring in the abdomen
When the clotting has occurred in the abdominal area, it can cause pain and swelling in the gut. However, these are also potential symptoms of food poisoning or a virus in the stomach.
Blood clots occurring in the brain
Blood clotting in the brain is also referred to as a stroke. When there is a blood clot in the brain, it can cause symptoms such as excruciating pain in the head which occurs suddenly, speech problems, and issues with vision.
Blood clot occurring in the lungs
When the blood clot reaches the lungs, the condition is referred to as a pulmonary embolism. The symptoms caused by this condition are:
- Breathlessness which is not a result of physical exercise
- Pain in the chest
- Rapid increase in the heart rate or palpitations
- Problems with breathing
- Blood with cough
What are the complications associated with blood clots?
A blood clot can develop in any vessel and it can travel to various parts of the body. It can reach the heart, lungs, brain, or any other area once it starts traveling freely through the blood. This transfer of blood clots to various parts of the body can lead to severe health conditions and complications by blocking the regular flow of blood to vital organs. Eventually, this blockage can lead to a stroke or a heart attack.
Some other complications associated with blood clots are:
- Kidney failure
When the blood clot occurs in the kidneys, it can cause severe damage and can eventually lead to kidney failure. Due to dysfunctional kidneys, the waste, which is supposed to be thrown out of the body, stays inside and starts accumulating. This leads to a lot of complications such as high blood pressure.
- Pulmonary embolism
When the blood clot reaches the pulmonary artery of one of the lungs, the condition is known as pulmonary embolism. This can lead to a reduced supply of oxygen to the blood and eventually hurt vital organs such as the heart and the lungs.
- Complications during pregnancy
The clotting that takes place during pregnancy usually takes place in the pelvis area veins. This puts the pregnant woman at the risk of pulmonary emboli and other complications associated with it. Blood clots during pregnancy also increase the risk of miscarriage, premature labor, and adverse effects on the mental health of the woman.
What causes blood clots to form?
Usually, blood clots are formed as a result of the body’s reaction to an injury or a cut. As long as there is a trigger, blood clots are helpful. However, when they start to form without any cut or injury, they can be dangerous.
There are various factors that can lead to the formation of blood clots. These include:
- Sitting for long hours
- Resting on the bed for too long, which usually happens in cases of a prolonged illness or surgery
- Intake of birth control pills
- Undergoing therapy for hormone replacement
- Medicine for breast cancer
- Some types of cancer such as lung cancer, pancreatic cancer, multiple myeloma, and cancers related to blood
- Any serious injury or trauma
- Any major surgery
- Age, people over the age of 60 years
- Family history
- Diseases that can be related to chronic inflammation
- Some infections such as HIV, Lyme disease, and hepatitis C
- Autoimmune disorders
How are blood clots diagnosed?
Blood clotting can lead to some severe and life-threatening conditions. Therefore, timely diagnosis can play an instrumental role in catching the problem and treating it before it proves to be fatal. On examining the symptoms, there are various tests that can be ordered by the doctor for the diagnosis. These include the following:
These tests are done to detect any abnormal activity and provide clues that can help the doctor to diagnose the condition more clearly. These include:
- D-dimer blood test
With the help of this test, any unusual clotting taking place somewhere in the bloodstream can be detected. This test usually helps the doctors to determine the occurrence of deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism.
- Cardiac biomarkers
These are used to detect a heart attack. These tests do not strictly diagnose the presence of blood clots. They detect and tell if there has been any damage caused to the heart muscle. This damage is usually a result of ruptured coronary artery plaque combined with the formation of thrombosis which takes place subsequently.
There can be several imaging tests that can be ordered by the doctor if he thinks they are necessary to make an accurate diagnosis. These include:
- Compression ultrasound
This test is not invasive and is easy to perform. It is usually done to diagnose deep vein thrombosis.
- V/Q scan
This test is done to check the flow of blood going to the lungs and to detect if there is any blockage in the pulmonary blood vessel.
- CT scan
This imaging test is particularly done to check if the stroke has been caused by a thrombus or an embolus. The test results can also be used to detect pulmonary embolism.
What are the treatment options for blood clots?
Blood thinners are usually given to treat blood clots. Different types of medications can be given in cases where blood clots are caused by a heart attack. In some cases, clot removals are done mechanically which is known as mechanical thrombectomies. This can be done if a person suffers from a stroke.
How to prevent blood clots?
There are various ways in which you can prevent the formation of blood clots. These include:
- Avoid sitting for long hours. If you have been traveling a lot or have been stuck in bed after an injury or surgery, make sure that you move every hour, if the situation allows. If you keep your body active, it will prevent blood from accumulating in your legs and forming clots of blood.
- Try to keep your body weight under check. People with obesity are at higher risk of developing plaque in the vessels which can cause blood clots to keep a check on blood clots and diabetes.
- Avoid smoking.
- Keep yourself hydrated.
Diet to fight blood clots
There are several foods that have been known to reduce the risk of the formation of blood clots by thinning the blood. These foods include:
The medicinal properties of ginger have been known for ages. As far as blood clots are concerned, ginger can fight the inflammation and even relax the muscles. To add ginger to your diet, you can start your day by sipping on a cup of ginger tea.
Cinnamon is an effective anticoagulant. It brings down blood pressure and reduces inflammation. This means having cinnamon can lower the risk of a stroke. To add cinnamon to your diet, you can add a small amount of the spice to any of your dishes or drinks.
- Cayenne pepper
This power food is loaded with salicylates which makes them an effective remedy for blood thinning. You can add it to your food or take it in the form of capsules to bring down your blood pressure and keep the flow of blood healthy.