Blood clotting is a normal function that occurs when you have an injury. If you scrape your knee, blood clots at the site of the injury so you don’t lose too much blood. But sometimes blood clotting can cause complications. These can be serious and even life-threatening, especially if a clot forms in a blood vessel. It’s important to understand the symptoms of clots so you can get treatment before complications occur.
Blood clots normally form anywhere you have an injury to stop the flow of blood. Plasma is the liquid portion of your blood and platelets are a type of blood cell. Plasma and platelets work to thicken the blood and form clots.
Sometimes a clot will form inside a blood vessel (an artery or a vein). This can happen even when there is no injury. Clots can also fail to dissolve after an injury has healed. The clot can cause serious complications in both situations if not discovered and treated.
You may be at risk for forming a blood clot if you:
- are obese
- a smoker
- over the age of 60
- take oral contraceptives
- have a chronic inflammatory disease
- if you have a family history of clotting disorders
Another important risk factor is immobility. You’re at a great risk for forming a clot if you are unable to walk, if you sit for long periods of time, or if you travel frequently. Make sure you are familiar with the signs of having a blood clot if you have any of these risk factors. Symptoms vary depending on where in your body the clot is. They may include:
- arm or leg: swelling, soreness, sudden pains, and warmth in one spot
- brain: changes in vision, seizures, speech impairment, weakness
- heart: shortness of breath, excessive sweating, chest pains that may extend down the left arm
- abdomen: serious abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting
- lung: sharp chest pains, a cough with blood, sweating, difficulty breathing, fever, a rapid pulse
A blood clot can form in any blood vessel in your body. It can end up in the lungs, heart, brain, and other locations if it breaks away and travels through the blood. These migrations can lead to serious complications as the clot disrupts the flow of blood to important organs. Potential complications include:
- heart attack or stroke: Lack of blood flow to the brain or the heart can cause a stroke or a heart attack. These episodes can be fatal if not treated immediately.
- pulmonary embolism: A blood clot that lodges in a pulmonary artery within one of the lungs is a pulmonary embolism. This can result in low oxygen levels in the blood and damage to the lungs and other organs.
- kidney failure: Blood clots in the kidneys can cause damage and ultimately, kidney failure. Fluids and waste can build up causing a number of other complications including high blood pressure.
- deep vein thrombosis (DVT): DVT occurs when a clot forms in a deep vein in an arm or leg. These can cause symptoms at the site, but can also lead to more serious complications if they break away and travel to the heart, brain, lung, or other organs.
- pregnancy complications: When a blood clot forms in a pregnant woman it can cause a miscarriage, preeclampsia, stillbirth, or other complications.
Blood clots can be treated with blood thinning medications. But it’s better to take steps to prevent them from forming. Complications can be serious and even fatal if a blood clot is not diagnosed early.
Work to control your risk factors so you can reduce your risk of developing a blood clot. Lose weight if you are obese. Stop smoking. Tell your doctor about any family history you have of blood clotting. Get treatment and follow your doctor’s instructions for lowering your risk factors if you have conditions that can cause clotting.
It’s also important to be physically active. Immobility is a major factor that can lead to clots forming, especially in the legs. Make a point to get up regularly and walk around if you sit for long hours at a desk or travel frequently.
Blood clots can be serious. But they are preventable. Understand your risk factors. If you are at risk for blood clots, be aware of the symptoms. Catching a clot early is crucial to surviving and avoiding the most severe complications.