A Life-Threatening Journey: The Deadly Effects of Traveling Blood Clots

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Education as a method of prevention


For many, blood clots tend to carry a negative connotation, due to their potentially damaging effects on the body. In many aspects, however, blood clots are a natural part of life, and, when formed correctly, can save someone from major blood loss after a dangerous injury.

In the proper life cycle of a blood clot, there are four steps that naturally occur. When a blood vessel is damaged, the first step is triggered, and the platelets in the blood are sent a signal to be sent to the source of injury. The platelets then fill the broken vessel to stop the bleeding by forming a plug. Next, the platelets release a set of chemicals attracting more platelets to reinforce the clot, solidifying its location. The clot continues to grow, as proteins send signals to acquire more and more platelets, using a long strand of fibrin to collect them all together. After the affected area is under control, the clot breaks down, with the platelets receding and fibrin dissolving.

Despite blood clots acting as a life-saving method of preventing massive blood loss, when blood clots form irregularly, it can result in a deep vein thrombosis – a condition where clots form in one of the deep vein systems of the body. Among all of the conditions that can occur in the vascular system, a deep vein thrombosis is among the most life-threatening – not only because of the damaging nature they can have from their initial development, but also because of their life-threatening effects if they’re able to travel to other parts of the body. Depending on where the clot dislodges and travels to, time could be limited. To fully examine the severity of this trend, it’s important to see how a clot’s location can result in varying levels of severity for those affected by them.

Lung

If a clot dislodges and travels to the lung, this is what is referred to as a pulmonary embolism. When a pulmonary embolism occurs, the supply of oxygenated blood can’t be provided throughout the lungs, increasing the blood pressure in the organs, and making it harder for your heart to pump blood. A pulmonary embolism can be extremely detrimental to a person’s health, if not deadly. If gone uncorrected and the heart continues to overwork, the organ could enlarge to the point where it is not able to perform.

A pulmonary embolism can be difficult to diagnose because its symptoms mimic many other diseases and conditions. However, key symptoms, such as shortness of breath, chest pain and bloody cough, are telling signs of a pressing health risk that should be immediately addressed by a medical professional. Because pulmonary embolisms result from blood clots forming elsewhere in the body, preventing a pulmonary embolism is predicated upon preventing the formation of blood clots.

Brain

Similar to how a blood clot can affect the proper blood flow to the lungs, resulting in a pulmonary embolism, a blood clot that dislodges and travels to the brain or carotid arteries leading to it, can cause a stroke. Located on either side of the neck, the carotid arteries help bring oxygenated blood from the aorta to the brain, allowing for appropriate function from the organ. When blood isn’t able to reach the brain, either through a blood clot or plaque build-up, a stroke has the potential to occur; decreasing oxygen and blood flow to the brain.

Typically, symptoms that are experienced by sufferers of this disease are usually weakness, numbness or tingling on one side of the body, memory loss or confusion, inability to write or understand writing, blindness or change in vision, loss of balance, loss of speech, etc. In cases of stroke, these symptoms do not subside quickly, and anyone experiencing them should call 911 right away and be taken to the ER.

Leg

Finally, blood clots that stay in the leg can still cause a multitude of health problems. In many cases, blood clots in the legs, especially those that form in the deep vein systems of the body, have the potential to cause severe pain, aching, and swelling in the affected limbs. In more severe cases, deep vein thrombosis can also worsen over time, causing ulcers and sores that are difficult to treat.

Those afflicted with deep vein thrombosis tend to have blood flow diverted to smaller arteries, affecting the tissues of the calf. When this occurs, the calf isn't able to get the proper blood flow required to function to the best of its ability. Furthermore, untreated blood clots in the legs can lead to blockage so severe that blood flow can be cut off entirely, resulting in potential amputation of the limb.


While the severity of a deep vein thrombosis can seem overwhelming, it’s important to realize that, if caught early, the condition is treatable. To learn more about how clots travel, contact your medical doctor or vascular specialist for more information. Given the right treatment, time, and consideration, a deep vein thrombosis, as well as the effects that can occur when clots travel throughout the body, doesn't have to affect your vascular health.