Blood Clots

Blood clots – also referred to as thrombi, or thrombosis – form as a result of a naturally occurring process known as coagulation, intended to limit blood loss in an injury and protect the body from infection. There are many types of blood clots, from the minor scab on a scraped knee to the lethal pulmonary embolism. Thrombi are categorized as venous or arterial.

  • Venous thrombosis – blood clots that form in the veins and deep in the limbs, also known as deep vein thrombosis, or DVT. The clot may detach from the vein and travel to the lungs, known as a pulmonary embolism, or PE. Venous thrombosis may occur when a person is immobilized, causing the blood to become stagnant.
  • Arterial thrombosis – blood clots that form in the arteries. Caused by narrowing or buildup in the arteries, these clots can block blood flow to the heart or brain, causing heart attack or stroke.

Blood Clots Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of thrombosis vary, depending upon the area and systems affected, and can be an indication of a thrombotic disorder.

  • Leg warmth, redness, pain and swelling
  • Difficulty ambulating
  • Chest pain and/or shortness of breath
  • Pallor, weakness, loss of sensation, paralysis

Blood Clots Causes

Blood clots form when there is damage to the lining of the artery or veins. This can occur from something obvious, such as a laceration or blunt force trauma. Clots can also occur unnoticed, such as results from buildup and plaque within the vessels, or prolonged periods of inactivity.

  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Dehydration
  • Inactivity and bed rest
  • Various medications

Some conditions which may predispose and individual to thrombi include:

  • Atherosclerosis – Plaque builds up within the arteries, and over time these plaques may rupture. Platelets aggregate at the sites of damage, forming clots.
  • Vasculitis – inflamed blood vessels causes platelets to stick to the damaged areas.
  • Diabetes – this disease greatly increases the risk of plaque buildup within the vessels.
  • Heart failure – When the heart is unable to pump sufficiently, blood slows and causes clot formation.
  • Metabolic syndromes and autoimmune disorders.

Blood Clots Diagnosis

Your history and a physical can help determine the probability of blood clots such as DVT and PE. Diagnosis is usually made through ultrasonography and Doppler flow studies, wherein a qualified physician is able to monitor the flow of blood through the arteries and veins. Other diagnostic studies include D-dimer testing and venography.

Blood Clots Treatment

Treatment is focused mainly on the prevention of pulmonary embolism and DVT, followed by ensuring adequate symptom relief.

  • The most important treatment is the initiation of anticoagulants such as injectable heparin. Oral anticoagulants include Warfarin and Coumadin.
  • General supportive measures include pain control with analgesics such as NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), acetaminophen, and aspirin.
  • Elevation of legs (supported by a pillow or other soft surface to avoid venous compression) can be helpful both to alleviate pain and compensate for periods of inactivity.
  • Arterial blood clots are often treated most aggressively with surgery. Medication such as Alteplase (TPA) may be injected directly into the clot to dissolve it and restore blood supply.