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An arterial clot, also called an arterial embolus, is a blood clot within an artery that interrupts blood flow to an organ in the body. In some cases, the blockage can be severe enough to require emergency surgery. In other cases, the clot can dissolve on its own without further medical intervention. All arterial clots should be evaluated by a medical professional to determine the severity.
Various types of clots can occur in different parts of the body. Venous clots, for example, occur within the veins and are most common in immobile patients. Post-operative patients are at a high risk for deep vein clots because they are often immobilized during the surgical procedure and throughout the recovery period. Even the body’s mechanisms to stop a cut from bleeding is a form of clotting, albeit a beneficial one.
Arterial clots, on the other hand, are caused by a completely different mechanism than other types of clots. Patients who have atherosclerosis form plaque deposits along the lining of the artery. These deposits grow over time and cause the vessel’s walls to become narrower. When the plaque erupts, a blood clot can form and cause blockage within the artery, cutting off blood flow to vital organs.
Potentially fatal consequences can occur when arterial clots form, depending on their location. Arterial clots in the brain can lead to stroke, and those in the heart can cause a heart attack. In rare cases, the arterial clot might occur in the artery that services the eyes, intestines or kidneys. Most arterial clots occur in the legs and feet, where they are usually not fatal unless the travel to another, more serious location.
Certain factors can increase the risk of throwing an arterial clot. These include advanced age, obesity, high cholesterol and diabetes. Obesity and cigarette smoking can also increase the risk. Patients who have undergone recent surgery or suffered a recent bone fracture may also be closely monitored for potential clotting.
Tests to determine the presence of an arterial clot include ultrasounds, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), echocardiography and blood tests to determine the level of certain enzymes in the blood. After an arterial clot is detected, treatment options aim at controlling the symptoms and increasing the blood flow through the artery. If the clot is not causing an imminent threat, medications such as anticoagulants and clot dissolving thrombolytics might be given. Surgical options include arterial bypass to create a new blood flow or embolectomy to remove the clot.