Most of the time, blood clots serve a useful purpose for the body. Blood coagulates to form a clot to stop the bleeding after an injury. Once the clots have done their job, they usually disintegrate without causing a problem. Excessive clotting (hypercoagulation) or clots that do not dissolve properly can cause major health issues that can result in heart attack, stroke and other conditions, including Deep Vein Thrombosis and Pulmonary Embolism (DVT/PE). A thrombosis is a blood clot that remains stationary. The danger they cause lies in the prevention of blood flow.
A clot that moves is an embolism. While blood clots can travel to the brain, heart, kidneys and lungs, DVT/PE is the result of blood clots in the deep veins of the limbs. It is estimated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that 900,000 people develop DVT/PE each year. 60,000 to 100,000 die as a result of it.
Causes of excessive blood clotting can be acquired, genetic or the result of another condition. Some examples of acquired causes are smoking, dehydration, obesity and sitting in the same position for a long period of time. Pregnancy and long hours of bed rest after surgery or during an illness can also contribute. Genetic risk factors include a family history where hypercoagulation is found frequently, a personal history of blood clots before the age of forty and the occurrence of unexplained miscarriages.
Medical conditions that can result in excessive blood clotting are cancer, diabetes, atrial fibrillation (AFib) and heart failure. Atherosclerosis, a disease defined by the buildup of too much plaque in the arteries, is also a risk factor. When the plaque, a waxy substance, comes apart and ruptures, clots may form. Vasculitis, or inflamed blood vessels, can create clots, as well. Certain medicines may also trigger hypercoagulation. They may include cancer treatment, HIV and AIDS medications.
Symptoms of hypercoagulation
While it is possible that no symptoms may be evident, there are signs that point to blood clots. Temperature change in the area of the body near the clot is one of the common symptoms. The leg or arm may feel cold. Hands or fingers may also feel cool to the touch. Tingling, muscle spasms, unexplained discoloration (usually reddish or blue) or weakness in an arm or leg could also become noticeable.
For clots in veins near the skin (superficial venous thrombosis), the skin could appear red or swelling may occur. For the very serious DVT, swelling of one or both legs, or cramping near the knee or in the calf are often signals.
Treating excessive blood clotting
Emergency treatment is often necessary for blood clots but a program of medication may also be prescribed by a cardiologist. In a life-threatening situation, thrombolytics that quickly dissolve clots are often administered. Commonly referred to as “clot-busters,” thrombolytics eliminate the clot and improve blood flow. In severe cases, such as DVT/PE, surgical procedures may be necessary.
A prescribed program to help manage the propensity of hypercoagulation could include blood thinners to reduce the chances of excessive clotting. Warfarin is taken in pill form while heparin is injectable. A cardiologist may prescribe them separately or together, depending upon the individual.
Preventing future or recurring blood clots
If blood clots have already occurred, following the advice of a cardiologist and taking prescribed medication will help prevent additional clotting. Whether hypercoagulation has occurred or not, making sure to move around helps in staving off clots, especially after a long automobile or plane ride. Flexing the leg muscles is advantageous. It is also important to get out of the bed and walk around, especially if recovering from surgery or other medical conditions that require bed rest.
Controlling weight and stopping smoking are paramount in the prevention of excessive blood clotting. Knowing the probability of hypercoagulation based on previous occurrence and family history and discussing those possibilities with a physician or cardiologist are important, as well.
To learn more about preventing and treating blood clots, log on to vascularhealthclinics.org.