WHAT’S THE CAUSE?
Blood clots can occur under many different circumstances and in many different locations. Those that form in response to an injury or a cut are beneficial because they stop potentially dangerous bleeding. But a number of conditions can produce blood clots that can be life-threatening.
Deep vein thrombosis is a condition in which a blood clot forms in a deep vein, usually in a leg. It’s a serious problem because the blood clot can break loose, travel through your bloodstream and lodge in your lungs, blocking blood flow — what’s called a pulmonary embolism.
Many factors can increase your risk of developing deep vein thrombosis. They include having a blood-clotting disorder, prolonged rest in which you aren’t on your feet, injury or surgery to your veins, pregnancy, use of estrogen found in birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy, being overweight, smoking, and heart disease.
A blood clot that forms in a leg may produce the following signs and symptoms:
- Swelling in the affected leg. Rarely, swelling in both legs.
- Pain in the leg that often starts in the calf and may feel like cramping or soreness.
Signs and symptoms of a pulmonary embolism include:
- Unexplained sudden onset of shortness of breath
- Chest pain that worsens when you take a deep breath or cough
- Feeling lightheaded or dizzy, or fainting
- Rapid pulse
- Coughing up blood
The goal of treatment for deep vein thrombosis or a pulmonary embolism is to get rid of the clot. Medications are most commonly prescribed.
Anticoagulant medications, also called blood thinners, decrease your blood’s ability to clot. They don’t break up existing blood clots, but they keep them from getting bigger and they help prevent the development of new clots.
For severe deep vein thrombosis or a pulmonary embolism, or if other medications aren’t working, your doctor may prescribe medications to break up the clot.
- Filters. If you can’t take medications, a filter may be inserted into a large vein (vena cava) in your abdomen. The filter prevents clots that break loose from lodging in your lungs.
If you have a large clot in a lung, your doctor may suggest removing it. This is generally done via a catheter that’s threaded through your blood vessels.
- Avoid sitting or standing too long. If you’ve had surgery or you’ve been on bed rest, try to walk as soon as possible.
- Get regular exercise. Exercise lowers your risk of blood clots.
- Lose weight and quit smoking. Obesity and smoking increase your risk of deep vein thrombosis.
Wear compression stockings. These tightfitting stockings help prevent swelling associated with deep vein thrombosis and reduce the chances that your blood will pool and clot.
Excerpt From: The Mayo Clinic. “Mayo Clinic A to Z Health Guide”.