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How life-saving blood clot becomes dangerous

D. Alwinsky, M.D. |
Blood clots are good thing. When you injure yourself, cut while shaving for example, your body makes a blood clot and it stops bleeding. When everything sorts out, the blood clot falls apart. But when it doesn't, there is a huge problem.

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A blood clot may form in number of places and it can cause a number of conditions, from pain to life-threatening conditions doctors must deal with immediately.

You might get a clot in your arteries, which carry oxygen in your blood from your heart to all the cells of your body. The result can be really serious. It can keep oxygen from getting to your heart, lungs, or brain, and cause a life-threatening emergency, like a heart attack or stroke.

Blood clots are semi-solid masses of blood formed by a process called coagulation or clotting. A blood clot may be stationary, we call that a thrombosis, or it can travel freely around the body, we call that an embolism.

There are two types of clots, named after the place they were formed: arterial and venous.

Arterial form in the arteries and whey they form they cause symptoms immediately. A clot prevents oxygen from reaching vital organs and that means we have a very dangerous condition at hand: intense pain, stroke, a heart attack, and paralysis.

On the other hand, venous clots that form in the veins form slowly and symptoms gradually become more noticeable.

Who is at risk?

The simplest answer would be - everyone. Every injury, cut, or medical procedure is risky. However, there are conditions that raise the risk significantly.

First, there's genetics. People who have a disorder that makes their blood clot more easily are at a greater risk but as with any other genetic condition, that doesn't mean a blood clot will happen.

Then, a long time spent in bed, which usually happens after a procedure in a hospital, prevent blood to circulate freely which increases the risk. That's why hospitals are paying special attention to it.

Patients who can walk are advised to walk 10 to 15 minutes every day at least.

If a patient can't walk but can move, a small exercise may help by pointing their toes toward the bottom of the bed, then up toward the face, and that should be repeated ten times every hour. There are also compression stocking that improve blood flow and decrease the risk of a blood clot.

Then, simple elevating patient's legs above the heart three or four times a day for about 15 minutes can lower the risk and it also reduces swelling if it's present.

If you are not in the hospital but recently had even a minor surgical procedure, you should be careful.

For example, after a tooth extraction you must not brush near the extraction site for at least 4, 5 days, you don't want to break the clot because that may allow it to travel elsewhere. You should also avoid hot food and drinks for couple of days.

There are other conditions that can increase the risk.

Pregnancy - and overweight - increases the pressure in the veins in the pelvis and legs which may lead to a blood clot. Dehydration can contribute to the development of a blood clot, birth control pills can increase blood's ability to clot, and inflammatory bowel diseases are a contribution factor too.

If the doctor thinks there may be a blood clot, there are test to confirm that, but let see first how you can recognize it. Be aware that those are just rule of thumb advice but sometimes they can save your life.

If a blood clot was formed in one of the deep veins in arms or legs, this is a deep vein thrombosis (DVT). That clot can travel to heart or lungs, meaning the situation is critical.

How to spot it?

Swelling may occur in the exact spot where the blood clot was formed and even your entire leg or arm may swell. There may be a change in color, the skin turns red or blue, and the limb is warm.

Then there may be strong pain - that means you should go and see the doctor. But, if you also have trouble breathing - call emergency rescue right away. That means the clot traveled all the way to your lungs and your life is in danger.

When a blood clot form somewhere near your heart or in it, there are usual symptoms of a heart attack: strong pain in the chest and arm, sweating, breathing problems.

If you have shortness of breath, pain in your chest, if you cough and begin to sweat and feel dizziness - you most probably got pulmonary embolism. This is a condition when a blood clot starts to travel from leg or arm's vein and ends up in the lungs. That demands emergency help in the nearest hospital.

If the doctor suspects it's about a blood clot, aside of well-known symptoms we described above, there are some test to confirm that.

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