Blood clots
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Blood clots are formed as a natural reaction of the body to bleeding. Whenever a vein or artery is damaged from cuts, abrasions or wounds, the body immediately starts a clot forming in order to seal the opening in the skin to prevent further bleeding. The clotting process begins when both blood cells and fibrin strands clump together after a blood vessel has been subject to injury. The clot eventually forms a hard scab over the injured blood vessel to protect the healing tissues within. If the body did not have the ability to clot, a person could bleed to death from even the most minor of cuts or scrapes.


On the other hand, while blood clots normally dissolve after they have served their purpose, some blood clots form that can pose a danger for the body. These blood clots appear even when injury to blood vessels or arteries does not take place, and they actually block the normal flow of blood in a vein. The formation of these abnormal blood clots require immediate medical intervention to prevent a host of side effects that stem from these abnormal clotting.

These blood clots impede the normal flow of blood in the veins and arteries in different parts of the body, causing various maladies that vary from unsightly varicose veins to fatal pulmonary embolisms. When a blood clot forms within superficial veins, it results in pain, redness and swelling in the body part where the vein is located. Blood clots that form in the deeper veins are liable to break off and travel with the blood flow until it reaches the heart. When this happens, dangerous complications, such as a heart attack, can occur. If the clot ends up in the lungs, it can also result to a pulmonary embolism, and a blood clot that reaches the brain is one of the culprits of strokes.

There are various reasons for abnormal blood clotting that occurs in the body. Some blood clots form as a result of a trauma to the body, such as internal blood clotting that occurs after a person gets into a car accident, for example. Tiny blood clots are also known to appear as one of the side effects after a person undergoes open-heart surgery. These miniature clots, known as microembolization, stem from the use of a heart-lung machine.


Blood clot formation is also associated with other conditions such as atherosclerosis, strokes, heart attacks, cancer, various infections, valvular heart disease and heart failure, autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, blood ailments like hemophilia, hypertension, thrombocythemia, pregnancy, inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, as well as atrial fibrillation.

People who have a history of varicose veins are at risk for developing abnormal blood clots, as are people who smoke excessively, and those whose homocysteine levels are elevated. Other risk factors include obesity, a sedentary lifestyle devoid of regular physical activity, extended use of contraceptive pills or patches, advanced age, a family history of deep vein thrombosis, people whose work requires them to sit for long periods of time, and patients who have surgically implanted mechanical heart valves.
Blood clots
Image: Blood clots

There are also individuals who are said to be in a hypercoagulable state that is determined by genetic factors, such as Factor V Leiden. This state results in abnormal blood clotting due to high levels of blood-clotting proteins in the body.


If a person has any of the risk factors for abnormal blood clotting, they should immediately see a doctor when they start experiencing the symptoms of shortness of breath; sudden weakening or numbing of their face, arm or leg; difficulty in speaking or understanding speech (aphasia); blurring, doubling, or decrease in vision; a tight pressure or pain within the region of the chest that lasts for several minutes at a time, and pain radiating to the shoulder, back, arm, jaw or teeth. These symptoms are considered dangerous, and require emergency medical treatment.

Other symptoms of blood clotting include redness, swelling and numbness in the affected area where the blood clot forms, such as in an arm or a leg, a throbbing and burning sensation in a person’s palms or the soles of the feet, as well as constant dizziness and headaches.


Upon consultation, the doctor will review the patient’s medical history and subject him or her to a thorough physical examination. There are a variety of tests to pinpoint the location of a suspected blood clot, one of which is a Doppler ultrasound. This type of imaging technology produces an image, outline and shape of the various organs and blood vessels in the body through the use of sound waves and motion waves. In this manner, any clot that presents an obstruction to the various blood vessels in the body can be located.

Another manner of diagnosing blood clots it through a CAT scan. After injecting a special dye into the body, a Computed Axial Tomography scan will be taken. It consists of several x-ray images taken in a series and at different angles in order to come up with a three-dimensional image of the affected body part.

Doctors may also recommend an MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging scan. This non-invasive test makes use of magnetic fields to create a vivid cross-section image of the affected area in three dimensions. A follow-up MRA (magnetic resonance angiogram) is usually performed after a dye injection in order to observe the way blood flows through a patient’s coronary and carotid arteries.

Other diagnostic methods include venograms, which is an assessment of the presence of blood blots in a vein, and angiograms, which examine blood clots in arteries. In both cases, a dye in injected prior to an x-ray.


There are various ways in which the medical community treats abnormal blood clotting. Doctors prescribe the use of anticoagulants to prevent blood clot formation, as well as clot busters to dissolve blood clots that already exist. For more serious cases that require emergency medical intervention, such as a heart attack, a catheter is inserted to remove large life-threatening clots. This procedure is called a thrombectomy. Other devices may also be implanted in blood vessels where potential clotting may form, in order to prevent blood clots from appearing and causing fatal damage.

People who are at risk for blood clots should avoid sitting for extended periods of time, particularly if they take trips that involve traveling in a car or an airplane. Walking the aisle of an airplane in one-hour intervals or stopping the car to take a brief walk is recommended. Regular physical activity is a must for sedentary individuals who have a family history of varicose veins, and obese patients need to make certain lifestyle changes such as losing weight and lowering their blood pressure to prevent blood clots from forming.
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