In our Houston vein practice, we know how serious a threat blood clots pose to your health. When we treat patients with Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), a condition in which blood clots form in the deep veins of your legs, we face a medical emergency. That’s because, if a blood clot breaks free and travels to other parts of your body—especially to your lungs—it can threaten your life.
But, many people want to know: why do I get blood clots? And, what are they exactly? Is there anything I can do to prevent them? So, in this post, we will try to answer all of those questions. Just keep reading to learn more.
Why do blood clots form?
When things are working properly, your blood flows freely through your body, delivering oxygen to your organs and flushing out the waste products created by your body’s metabolic processes. But, if you get a cut, scrape or injury, blood in your arteries and veins (veins return blood from the body to the heart; arteries transport blood away from your heart) will clot to block your blood vessels and stop you from bleeding out.
But, when your arteries or veins get blocked when you aren’t injured, you need medical intervention. Otherwise, you can face complications such as strokes, heart attacks, organ damage and even limb loss. In certain occasions, as we mentioned earlier, blood clots can kill you by travelling to your lungs (pulmonary embolism), interfering with your ability to breathe.
Blood clots form in blood vessels—either your deep veins or your arteries. Typically, they form after your blood vessels get damaged, triggering a reaction in your body. This reaction involves a mix of platelets and clotting factor proteins.
How Do Blood Clots Cause Health Problems?
As we mentioned, problematic blood clots form when the connection between platelets and clotting factor proteins goes awry. Platelets are objects in your blood that group together and stick to the walls of your blood vessels when needed.
Clotting factors are proteins in the blood that trigger a reaction to makes platelets and red blood cells stick together. Typically, other proteins in your body make that reaction stop, so your clot only reaches the size needed to prevent excess bleeding. But when damage to your blood vessels impacts that reaction, clots may grow unchecked, leaving you at risk for clotting conditions like DVT.
Arterial clots and DVT
We can’t always predict who will be affected by blood clots, or when those clots will form. But we do know certain factors that can increase your risk for clots:
- Prolonged immobility, as with long airplane flights
- Having thick blood (hypercoagulability.) Often, you only discover your blood is thick after developing a clood clot. But in some cases, hypercoagulability causes chest pain, dizziness, slurred speech and shortness of breath. Usually, this condition is a symptom of other diseases, including vascular diseases suches as polycythemia.
- Arm or leg surgery
- Casting a broken bone
- Being pregnant
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- A family history of peripheral artery disease (PAD), stroke or heart disease.
Remember, PAD develops when you have atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis, a type of arteriosclerosis, is a condition where plaque builds up in your arteries. It specifically means that plaque built up on the inner most wall of your artery. Once that happens, your arteries narrow and ‘harden.’ In turn, this reduces blood flow to certain parts of your body. And it also increases your risk of blood getting ‘stuck,’ and forming clots.
New research has revealed an additional risk factor for blood clots, and it’s one that you unfortunately can’t control. In fact, your blood type can contribute to that risk, according to a study published in the Journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology.
The research, which began in 2017, found that people with types A or B blood had a combined 8% higher risk of heart attack, and a 10% increased risk of heart failure, as compared to people with type O blood. So, knowing your blood type could help you understand your risk for developing a blood clot.
Diagnosing and Treating Blood Clots
The best way to treat blood clots is to prevent their formation. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, staying mobile even on long trips, and using compression therapy can all help protect you from DVT. Even if you develop a DVT, compression therapy—especially within 24 hours of the clot’s formation—can help manage your risk of further complications.
So, as with many other vein and arterial conditions, timeliness is key when it comes to treating blood clots. The sooner you see a vein specialist, the better the outcome you will likely enjoy. So if you have any symptoms of or risks for blood clots, schedule an appointment with your Houston vein specialists today!