People with high blood pressure, diabetes, who are pregnant, or smoke are at higher risk of developing blood clots. Sitting still for long periods of time, such as while traveling or lying in bed after surgery, can be dangerous to those predisposed to clots. Women who smoke while on birth control pills are at risk because both activities raise blood pressure and the tendency for blood to coagulate. Prevention of blood clots means monitoring medical conditions and activity levels.
The most common kind of clot, deep venous blood clots, form in the arms or legs and cut off the circulation of blood back to the heart. Swelling and a pain that feels like a persistent charley horse are signs of a problem. Symptoms often come on gradually because the clot slowly forms in the vessel. The limb may grow cool to the touch since blood flow is dammed. Clots must be treated quickly before they can work loose and cause a blockage in a vital organ.
Pulmonary embolism occurs when blood clots that have formed in another part of the body travel up through the circulatory system and lodge in the lungs. This prevents them from exchanging oxygen and causes suffocation. Symptoms include sudden shortness of breath, sharp pain in the chest that gets worse when moving but doesn’t stop at rest, and a cough accompanied by bloody sputum. A pulmonary embolism is a life-threatening emergency and requires hospitalization.
Arterial blood clots are common causes of heart attack and stroke. Intense pain in the affected area, a white appearance, and cold skin indicate a blockage of the blood vessel in a limb. In the case of heart attack or stroke, these classic symptoms will be present. Swift medical intervention is crucial, and often surgery is employed to remove the clot.
Treatment for a pulmonary embolism is usually accomplished with anticoagulants such as heparin or thrombolytics, also called clot-busting drugs. The latter is used for stroke and heart attack victims as well. Removal of a large clot in the lungs via a catheter may be needed. Some people who cannot handle the drugs may need an inferior vena cava (IVC) filter, a large stent in the main abdominal vein that prevents clots from traveling. Anticoagulant therapy with blood thinner medications will probably follow once the circulatory system is stabilized.
Blood clots can be prevented to some degree by making lifestyle changes. People who smoke should stop, especially women on birth control or over 35. High blood pressure can be treated with medication and exercise, as can Type II diabetes. If surgery is needed, the patient needs to get up and around as soon as possible. Travelers should take breaks and walk around during long trips by car or airplane to keep blood moving.