Are blood clots dangerous?

Contents

Michelle Winters’ Blood Clot Story

The personal story below is intended for informational purposes only. The National Blood Clot Alliance (NBCA) holds the rights to all content that appears on its website. The use by another organization or online group of any content on NBCA’s website, including the patient stories that appear here, does not imply that NBCA is connected to these other organizations or groups or condones or endorses their work. Please contact [email protected] with questions about this matter.

My name is Michelle, and like many of the patient stories on this site, I stumbled upon the Stop The Clot® Facebook page during my research for more information on blood clots. On October 29, 2013, I survived a life-threatening blood clot in my calf (deep vein thrombosis or “DVT”) and lungs (pulmonary embolism or “PE”).

I could have never imagined something as serious as this, could have happened to me. I am a very active, and I run, and practice fitness boot camps almost every day. I have never smoked, or had surgery, or children. I had been on the same birth control pill for 10 years, and switched to a new oral contraceptive in September 2013.

On October 26, 2013, I went out for a run and I felt like I was fighting for breath. I had recently been studying for a test so since my workout schedule had changed I assumed I was just out of shape. The following morning, as I was walking into my office, I was very tired; my legs felt like they were cramping up, but again I figured it was due to my workouts. This went on a few days, and on October 26th, I went to a clinic where they told me I was experiencing heart burn and allergies. I was sent home with an inhaler and an antacid. My blood pressure always remained in the normal range, and though my pulse was high in the 110 beats range, the doctors thought I was just being nervous. So with that in mind, I figured I was being dramatic and I just decided to enjoy my weekend, even though I felt like I was unable to breath or eat.

By the next day, my right calf started to feel like it was cramping, the pain went down all the way to my toes. I put ice and hot patches on my leg thinking it was a sports injury, and took some Advil for it. Since I had an appointment with my endocrinologist on October 29th anyway, I figured I would wait to ask him questions.

Well, the morning of my endocrinology appointment I was on a conference call at work, when I felt really sick; my leg and heart stared to pound.I felt very scared, my instincts told me this is not normal, and I felt like I was going to pass out. I work from home so I called 911, and when the paramedics came they told me I had a panic attack and to go to my doctor’s appointment. My blood pressure always remained in the normal range and my pulse was high in the 110 beats range and the paramedics said I was too young for a blood clot at 32 years old.

I kept hearing the same 4 questions over and over:

  • Do you have kids?
  • Did you accidentally hit yourself?
  • Have you had any recent surgeries?
  • Have you been in any long trips?

In my case I answered NO to all the questions. I did not fit the profile. I have to say that thankfully my endocrinologist said go to the emergency room as soon as possible. I went from that appointment to see my amazing doctor, who was able to confirm my DVT and PE. I went to Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas where amazing doctors gave me a tPA, which stands for Tissue plasminogen activator (abbreviated tPA or PLAT), a protein involved in the breakdown of blood clots. After that, I was put on a new oral anticoagulant or blood thinner, twice a day for a few weeks.

Amazingly, I was out of the hospital after 3 days; the doctors and nurses at Baylor were so great! I only spent about 48 hours in the ICU as a precaution. I am now following my treatment to the T. I have not been able to do a boot camp yet, but I am walking 3 miles a day, and I can’t wait to make a full recovery.

I recently had a second blood clot on January 18, 2016 and thankfully this time around my family and friends were all educated on the matter and were able to help me not dismiss the signs.

Once again, it happened after I went jogging with my best friend, my right calf felt really hard and I could not put any weight on it. I did not let time pass by and immediately went into the emergency room. I let them know my history of previous DVT and PE. I called my primary doctor, who amazingly came to see me at the emergency clinic. After a quick sonogram they confirmed I had a clot in the same spot as last time. I was hospitalized a few days and will have to take a blood thinner for life.

I have and will continue to maintain a healthy lifestyle. More than ever I am focused on determining what caused me to have a second clot (since I don’t have a genetic condition). My Doctor and I are working together to determine if Venous Insufficiency could be a cause.

But the most important thing is to help educate others about the signs of a DVT, it’s so easy to dismiss. No matter how old you are, have a good doctor that knows your history and be your advocate. Help us spread the word this March.

My biggest take away of this experience is that you have to be your own advocate, and if you feel sick do not dismiss it. Make sure to have a good doctor that knows your medical history. In my case, I am relatively new to Dallas (1.5 years), and being young and healthy made me lay off the need to have a good family doctor. Going from clinic to clinic definitely delayed my diagnosis. I really hope my story can help other people understand how sudden a DVT and PE is and how commonly it’s misdiagnosed. In order to spread the word, I ask that you help in our effort to raise funds for the National Blood Clot Alliance and spread awareness.

To join our online discussion community and connect with other people who have experienced a blood clot, please .
To learn more about signs and symptoms of blood clots, please .
To learn more about birth control and blood clot risks, please .
To get help finding a healthcare provider, .

5 Blood Clot Facts Doctors Want You to Know

Under normal circumstances, blood clots can be helpful. For example, when you get hurt, your body forms a blood clot to stop the bleeding. After healing takes place, your body breaks down the clot and removes it. But sometimes this process goes wrong. Some people get too many blood clots, and other people have blood that clots in an unusual way. The end result: venous thromboembolism (VTE), a disorder that affects between 300,000 to 600,000 Americans each year.

Without proper treatment, VTE can block blood flow and oxygen to parts of your body. This can cause serious damage to your tissues and organs, or even death. The good news is that you can reduce your risk of VTE through lifestyle changes and medication when appropriate.

Here are five facts that doctors wish everyone knew about VTE:

1. Some Patient Populations Are at Higher Risk

“About 40 percent of all VTE occur in hospitals or shortly after discharge, and about 30 percent of all VTE occur in cancer patients,” says Mary Cushman, MD, hematologist and medical director of the thrombosis and hemostasis program at the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington. One strategy for reducing VTE in hospitalized patients is to use low dose blood thinning medication, notes Dr. Cushman. During a hospital stay, it’s important to have a VTE risk assessment by your healthcare team, notes the National Health Services. This will help determine the best prevention strategy for your situation.

People with cancer who are seen in outpatient settings may also benefit from low dose blood thinners. VTE risk is particularly high during chemotherapy treatment and after cancer-related surgery. There are large ongoing clinical trials to help doctors determine how best to prescribe VTE prevention treatments for cancer patients. In the meantime, patients should ask their oncologists for a risk assessment and get educated about the symptoms and signs of blood clots.

Other populations at higher risk for VTE include people with autoimmune diseases like lupus and those living with HIV. Having a personal history of stroke or a prior deep vein thrombosis also puts you at higher risk.

2. Sign and Symptoms for VTE Are Not Always Obvious

Deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism are two forms of VTE. Deep vein thrombosis is when a blood clot forms in a deep vein, usually in the lower leg or thigh. A pulmonary embolism occurs when a clot breaks loose and travels through the bloodstream to the lungs.

If you have deep vein thrombosis, you may experience the following symptoms:

  • Swelling in legs or arms
  • Pain or tenderness
  • Increased warmth, cramps, or aching
  • Red or discolored skin

The symptoms for pulmonary embolism include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain with deep breathing
  • Rapid breathing
  • Increased heart rate
  • Cough

3. There Is No Routine Screening Test for VTE

Routine screening tests are available for common conditions like diabetes and high cholesterol. But there aren’t any evidence-based screening tests to detect blood clots.

“The main ways that doctors assess your risk for VTE is by taking a good medical history and by evaluating your signs and symptoms,” says Ada Stewart, MD, a family physician with the Eau Claire Cooperative Health Centers in South Carolina and member of the board of directors for the American Academy of Family Physicians. “Your doctor may also ask about any family history of blood clots and will review your current medication.”

Because no screening test exists for finding blood clots, it’s important to know the risk factors, such as:

  • Surgery
  • Sitting or being in bed for long periods of time
  • Age
  • Sex
  • Obesity
  • Hormone-based medication, like birth control
  • Pregnancy
  • Race and ethnicity

4. Behaviors and Lifestyle Factors Are Important for Preventing VTE

Being sedentary, obese, and smoking all increase a person’s risk for blood clots, says Dr. Stewart.

Stewart also noted that while many patients are aware that smoking is bad for cardiovascular disease and blood pressure, they don’t realize that smoking is also bad for blood clots.

You can’t change some risk factors, like age or family history, but behaviors are within your control. For example, if you have a job where you sit a lot, be sure to get up and move around periodically. If you smoke, quit. Maintain a healthy diet and get regular exercise.

5. There Are Effective Drugs to Help Treat VTE

Cushman notes that there’s been a “revolution of new drugs in the last 5 to 10 years which have simplified the treatment of VTE. These medicines, called direct oral anticoagulants (DOACs), are less cumbersome to use compared with the old standard warfarin treatment, which requires regular blood work for monitoring.”

If you’re concerned about taking anticoagulant medication, talk to your healthcare provider about the risks and benefits of each option. For example, bleeding is the main side effect for blood thinners and is a concern for some patients. This may be particularly true for those who are older and have other risk factors for bleeding.

If you’d prefer to try a more natural approach for lowering your risk of VTE, weight loss and other lifestyle changes are good options. Statins can also help lower risk for blood clots. Still, it is not clear if these interventions will help prevent a recurrence once you’ve already had a blood clot. For these reasons, blood thinning drugs remain the cornerstone of treatment, notes Cushman.

Most of the time, blood clots are a good thing. When you get injured, you need your blood to solidify and clump together at the site to help stop the bleeding. But sometimes clots crop up when they’re not needed, and that can spell trouble—especially if they form in the deep veins near your muscles.

“When blood clots form in this deeper system, they can be painful and very dangerous,” says Luis Navarro, MD, founder of the Vein Treatment Center in New York City. This kind of clot is called a deep vein thrombosis, or DVT. DVTs are like roadblocks on your blood highway—they cause traffic jams in your circulation and prevent the blood flow that keeps your system up and running.

Things can get even more serious if a DVT breaks away from its original spot and travels to your lungs. Then it becomes a pulmonary embolism, a clot that prevents these vital organs from getting the oxygen and blood they need. That can damage your lungs and other organs and may even be fatal. (Heal your whole body with Rodale’s 12-day liver detox for total body health!)

Some people are more prone to a DVT than others, so it’s worth staying on top of any risk factors. It’s also smart to know the warning signs so you can act quickly. “It’s important to recognize symptoms because they can often be minimal or overlooked,” and getting prompt treatment is key, says Navarro. Here’s what to watch for.

Your Guide to Preventing and Treating Blood Clots

Blood clots are a serious medical condition. It is important to know the signs and get treated right away. This guide describes ways to prevent and treat blood clots; symptoms; and medication side effects as well as when to go to the emergency room.

This guide was funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) under grant No. U18 HS015898-01.

Contents

Introduction
Causes of Blood Clots
Symptoms of a Blood Clot
Preventing Blood Clots
Treatment of Blood Clots
Side Effects of Blood Clots
List of Terms
Figure 1: Illustration of a Blood Clot
Acknowledgments, Disclaimer, and Licensing

Introduction

Blood clots (also called deep vein thrombosis ) most often occur in people who can’t move around well or who have had recent surgery or an injury. Blood clots are serious. It is important to know the signs and get treated right away. This guide tells about ways to prevent and treat blood clots. Figure 1 provides an illustration of a blood clot in the leg.

Reminders:

Call your doctor if you have questions.
Your doctor’s phone number is: _________________________________________

In this guide, the term “doctor” is used. It can mean doctor, nurse, physician’s assistant, nurse practitioner, pharmacist, or other heath care professional.

Return to Contents

Causes of Blood Clots

Blood clots can form if you don’t move around a lot. You may also get a blood clot if you:

  • Have had recent surgery.
  • Are 65 or older.
  • Take hormones, especially for birth control. (Ask your doctor about this).
  • Have had cancer or are being treated for it.
  • Have broken a bone (hip, pelvis, or leg).
  • Have a bad bump or bruise.
  • Are obese.
  • Are confined to bed or a chair much of the time.
  • Have had a stroke or are paralyzed.
  • Have a special port the doctor put in your body to give you medicine.
  • Have varicose (VAR-e-kos) or bad veins.
  • Have heart trouble.
  • Have had a blood clot before.
  • Have a family member who has had a blood clot.
  • Have taken a long trip (more than an hour) in a car, airplane, bus, or train.

Are you at risk?

Some people are more likely to get blood clots. Talk with your doctor to see if you are at risk.

Return to Contents

Symptoms of a Blood Clot

You may have a blood clot if you see or feel:

  • New swelling in your arm or leg.
  • Skin redness.
  • Soreness or pain in your arm or leg.
  • A warm spot on your leg.

Important!

If you think you have a blood clot, call your doctor or go to the emergency room right away!

Blood clots can be dangerous. Blood clots that form in the veins in your legs, arms, and groin can break loose and move to other parts of your body, including your lungs. A blood clot in your lungs is called a pulmonary embolism (POOL-mo-nar-e EM-bo-liz-em). If this happens, your life can be in danger. Go to the emergency room or call 911.

A blood clot may have gone to your lungs if you suddenly have:

  • A hard time breathing.
  • Chest pain.
  • A fast heartbeat.
  • Fainting spells.
  • A mild fever.
  • A cough, with or without blood.

Return to Contents

Preventing Blood Clots

You can help prevent blood clots if you:

  • Wear loose-fitting clothes, socks, or stockings.
  • Raise your legs 6 inches above your heart from time to time.
  • Wear special stockings (called compression stockings) if your doctor prescribes them.
  • Do exercises your doctor gives you.
  • Change your position often, especially during a long trip.
  • Do not stand or sit for more than 1 hour at a time.
  • Eat less salt.
  • Try not to bump or hurt your legs and try not to cross them.
  • Do not use pillows under your knees.
  • Raise the bottom of your bed 4 to 6 inches with blocks or books.
  • Take all medicines the doctor prescribes you.

Stay active!

Staying active and moving around may help prevent blood clots.

Return to Contents

Treatment for Blood Clots

If you have been told you have a blood clot, your doctor may give you medicine to treat it. This type of medicine is called a blood thinner (also called an anticoagulant ). In most cases, your doctor will tell you to follow this treatment plan:

  • For the first week you will receive medicine called heparin (HEP-a-rin) that works quickly.
  • This medicine is injected under the skin. You will learn how to give yourself these shots, or a family member or friend may do it for you.
  • You will also start taking Coumadin® (COO-ma-din)—generic name: warfarin (WAR-far-in)—pills by mouth. After about a week of taking both the shots and the pills, you will stop taking the shots. You will continue to take the Coumadin®/warfarin pills for about 3 to 6 months or longer.

Return to Contents

Side Effects of Blood Thinners

Blood thinners can cause side effects. Bleeding is the most common problem. Your doctor will watch you closely. If you notice something wrong that you think may be caused by your medication, call your doctor.

Are you bleeding too much?

If you think you are bleeding too much, call your doctor or go to the nearest emergency room. Tell them you are being treated for blood clots. Tell them the medicines you are taking.

Return to Contents

List of Terms

Term Meaning
Anticoagulant Medicine that thins your blood
Blood clot Blood that clumps together
Blood thinner Another name for medicine that prevents blood from clotting
Coumadin®/warfarin, heparin Types of medicines that keep blood from clotting
Deep vein thrombosis A blood clot that forms in the veins of the legs, arms, or groin
Pulmonary embolism A blood clot that has traveled to your lungs
Varicose veins Enlarged veins, often found in your legs

Return to Contents

Figure 1: Illustration of a Blood Clot

Text Description

This figure is a drawing of a human body with the heart and veins shown in the abdominal area and down to the legs. There is a large oval with an arrow pointing to a vein in the groin area. Within the oval is an illustration showing a close-up of a blood clot in the vein and the swelling in the area. Below the drawing is the text: “Blood clots can form in any deep veins of the body. Most often they form in the legs, arms, or groin.”

Return to Contents

Acknowledgments, Disclaimer, and Licensing

This document is in the public domain and may be used and reprinted without special permission. Citation of the source is appreciated.

Blood clots: The good, the bad, and the deadly

Published: April, 2012

Those arising from atherosclerosis and atrial fibrillation can be very dangerous.

When you poke yourself on a thorn while gardening or get a paper cut at the office, your body marshals the forces needed to stop the flow of blood and repair the damage. If it weren’t for the blood’s ability to clot (form a thrombus, in medicalese), even these minor scrapes of daily living could cause us to bleed uncontrollably. These healing clots also form inside the body at sites of blood vessel injuries. Normally, when the clot’s job is done, it dissolves away.

To continue reading this article, you must login.

Subscribe to Harvard Health Online for immediate access to health news and information from Harvard Medical School.

  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor’s visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise

Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online “

But most patients don’t need filters. Here’s why:

Filters don’t work better than blood thinners alone.

Studies show that IVC filters don’t work better than blood thinners alone to prevent death. Blood thinners are also called “anticoagulants.”

Filters have risks.

Usually, filters should be removed as soon as the danger of a pulmonary embolism passes. But often, this doesn’t happen, partly because patients and doctors do not always follow up after a procedure.

If the filter stays in your vein, it may get clogged. This can lead to a blood clot in your leg.

In rare cases, the filter or pieces of the filter move to other parts of the body. This can lead to complications and the need for surgery.

Filters and follow-up can be costly.

It costs $3,000 or more to put in a filter. Blood thinners cost about the same. However, removing a filter can cost an extra $2,000 or more. If you have complications, your costs can go up a lot. You may have to pay for medicines, visits to the doctor, and hospital stays. And you may miss work during treatment.

Who might need an IVC filter?

You may need an IVC filter if you have a deep blood clot and cannot safely take blood thinners. For example, you may need an IVC filter if you have a bleeding disorder or if you are having life-threatening bleeding at the time of treatment.

The filter should be removed as soon as the risk of pulmonary embolism or bleeding is over and it is safe to use blood thinners.

This report is for you to use when talking with your health-care provider. It is not a substitute for medical advice and treatment. Use of this report is at your own risk.

© 2014 Consumer Reports. Developed in cooperation with the American Society of Hematology.

Tim Allen Tells His Blood Clot Survival Story

My name is Tim Allen and I am 59 years old. I “busted” my foot playing soccer in college and needed surgery to repair it about 35 years ago when I was in the Air Force. However, it got worse recently, and I dislocated my toes whenever I ran. Unfortunately, I developed DVTs in my calf on the same side as the repeat surgery to mend my foot again.

Some of these DVTs moved to my thigh and some moved on to my lungs and heart.

I underwent a CT scan and a massive “saddle” bilateral pulmonary embolism was found. From what I was told by my team of doctors, I was lucky to be alive, probably due to being in better than average cardiovascular shape from swimming 1.5 to 2 miles per day on a regular basis for months before the surgery. The doctor who installed the filter in my renal vein, to block any more clots from traveling to my lungs, said he had never seen a patient survive after such a massive blood clot.

I went home after two weeks on warfarin, and the swelling in my leg from the blood clot went down. I started to research how to get back to running/biking/swimming – how soon, how much, etc.

I returned to my teaching job and felt great for a couple of days. Then, out of nowhere, I felt weak and tired when I got up. I figured it was part of getting back into the swing of things, so I went to school. However, I wasn’t there ten minutes when I began to feel much worse. I felt light-headed, my breathing became rapid and shallow, and I started to feel some pain in my chest. My wife got the school nurse to check me. I was told I was very pale and my BP was 88/60. The nurse told my wife to take me to urgent care, where they checked me and transported me immediately, by ambulance, to the emergency room. I was told that I was exhibiting quite a few of the typical symptoms of a heart attack.

At the hospital, they ran blood enzyme tests which came up negative. There was no heart attack, nor was any recurrence of a pulmonary embolism detected. My cardiologist came in and we talked about what might have caused my symptoms. He thought it was likely due to part of the large blood clot in my lungs breaking away and attaching to another part of the lung. He felt that this might have caused the symptoms as well as the pain I was feeling in my chest.

My doctor had scheduled me for a cardioversion to correct the atrial fibrillation (irregular heart rhythm) that I had for four years. However, since I was already hospitalized, they kept me there to do a special type of echocardiogram to make sure there were no clots in my heart. Since the results of that echocardiogram were clear, they did the cardioversion, which is a controlled electrical current to the heart to reset its pattern to regular rate and rhythm.

I talked with my cardiologist and the team that was going to do these procedures, and they were great. I felt calm and very safe. I had decided that this was one of those things that I had no control over and that my life was in their hands and in God’s, and I trusted them completely. The last thing I remember was the nurse-anesthesiologist telling me that I would be given something to make me dream… I woke up later and found out that there were no sign of clots in my heart. Even though it took two tries to cardiovert or control my atrial fibrillation, my heart returned to a regular rate and rhythm. Before I went in, my pulse ranged between 95 and 102. Afterwards, my pulse dropped to 55 and has stayed as regular as clockwork. I can’t believe how much better I feel.

I got the surgical pins taken out of my toes, and I am able to walk around without crutches, which feels so liberating. I have to wear compression socks, but walking seems to keep the swelling in my leg down. I want to thank everyone who was there for me during this whole experience. The doctors, nurses and staff were wonderful. My doctor took the time to explain everything to me – the problems, the procedures, the prognosis… everything. Since I am a science teacher, information and explanation were what I needed.

I want to channel my energy to do a fundraising ride around Oklahoma next summer to raise money for NBCA, similar to one I did when my wife was ill with breast cancer six years ago. I rode 1800 miles in 17 days to raise some money for research for the Lance Armstrong Foundation. This time I am planning on using a recumbent trike to keep my legs a bit elevated during the ride and help reduce any swelling. I will continue to wear compression socks to keep swelling down and to prevent any complications of DVT as well.

Tim Allen

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the things you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” — Mark Twain

Blood Clots in the United States

By the Numbers:

The Public Health Burden Associated with Blood Clots

Blood clots affect many people — people from all walks of life — and no one person is any less important than another. It’s difficult to look at the numbers below, and not think of the individuals — their families, their friends — and not ask oneself, “Could I be at risk for a blood clot?” The answer most certainly is, “Yes, anyone can be affected by blood clots.” Blood clots do not discriminate.

Tragically, too many lives are affected by blood clots, and too many lives are lost because public awareness about life-threatening blood clots is so low. Study after study has shown that fewer than 1 in 4 people have any recognition of blood clots or their signs and symptoms.

Consider this:

On Average, 274 People Die Every Day from Blood Clots
  • 107 to 130 cases of potentially deadly blood clots occurred each year per 100,000 Caucasian individuals from 1985 through 2002. This translates into about 1 to 3 cases per 1,000 people.
  • 250,000 cases of potentially deadly blood clots, such as deep vein thrombosis or DVT, occurred each year between 1966 through 1990.
  • 900,000 cases per year are now suggested by recent scientific modeling and public health statistics.
  • 100,000 to 300,000 deaths from blood clots occur each year, which is greater than the total number of people who lose their lives each year to AIDS, breast cancer, and motor vehicle crashes combined.
  • 600,000 non-fatal cases of deadly blood clots occur each year, of which 40% are blood clots in the lungs and 60% are blood clots in the legs.
  • 547,596 hospitalizations due to blood clots occurred from 2007 – 2009.
On average, one person dies every six minutes from a blood clot.
Don’t be one of them. Blood Clots Can Be Prevented.
Understand the risks. Know the signs & symptoms.

Provoked Blood Clots (70% of all patients):

  • Associated with known risk factors
  • Surgery, hospital, cancer, medical illness, genetic
  • Risk factors may be continuing
  • If risk factor transient, 2% per year recurrence after 3 months of anticoagulant therapy

Unprovoked (30% of all patients):

  • Absence of identifiable risk factor
  • Also called “idiopathic”
  • 7% to 11% per year recurrence for DVT or PE if anticoagulant therapy stopped after 3, 6,12 or 24 months

Learn More:

  • More information about blood clot risk factors
  • More information about blood clot signs and symptoms
  • More information about blood clot prevention

Heit J. The epidemiology of Venous Thromboembolism in the Community.
Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology 2008; 28:370-372

Heit J, Cohen A, Anderson F. Estimated annual number of incident and recurrent, fatal and non-fatal venous thromboembolism (VTE) events in the US. Blood 2005;106:267a

Yusuf H et al. MMWR 2012; 61: 22: 401 – 404

Kearon C. Circulation 2003;107:I-22 to I-30

Boutitie F et al. BMJ 2011, May 24;342:d3036

Blood clots can be deadly, but they are often preventable and treatable

Blood clots — jellylike masses of protein, blood cells and platelets — can be lifesaving when they stop bleeding caused by an injury. But they can be deadly if they form where they aren’t needed.

A clot in a vein close to the skin’s surface causes a burning or itching sensation yet typically doesn’t lead to serious problems. But a clot that develops in a vein deep in the lower abdomen or legs, called a deep-vein thrombosis, or DVT, can interfere with blood flow, often causing swelling and inflammation. It can also break up and form clots that travel through the bloodstream and lodge in the lungs, which can lead to severe organ damage and death.

Up to 100,000 people die each year in the United States from such pulmonary embolisms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But most blood clots are preventable and can usually be treated if discovered early.

The danger

Every year, as many as 600,000 Americans experience DVTs and clots in the lungs. (A DVT refers to a clot in the lower leg, thigh or pelvis. When clots occur in the arms or other areas, they’re usually referred to simply as venous thrombi.)

If traveling clots, or emboli, reach the lungs, they can block blood flow and cause a pulmonary infarction, a serious condition that can severely compromise lung function. Untreated pulmonary emboli lead to death in about 30 percent of cases, so it’s urgent to seek prompt medical care.

Who’s at risk?

Blood clots were very much in the news when it was announced in December that doctors had discovered a clot near the brain of Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was then the secretary of state. While Clinton’s clot might have been due to an earlier concussion, not all risk factors are injury-related.

A number of situations can increase your risk. They include:

●Sitting for longer than six to eight hours, such as during a trip in a car or plane.

●Having limited mobility due to a medical problem, surgery or paralysis.

●Having an injured vein from a bone fracture, severe muscle injury, trauma or major surgery (especially involving the abdomen, pelvis, hip or legs).

●Having a tube placed in a vein for medication or other treatment, such as a central venous catheter.

●Having heart failure or cancer in the abdomen.

●Having previously suffered a clot or having a family history of blood clots.

●Being pregnant, taking birth control pills or taking prescription hormones for menopause symptoms.

●Being older than 60, being overweight or obese, having high blood pressure or being a smoker.

●Having certain genetic or inherited blood-clotting disorders, such as Factor V Leiden.

Prevention measures

About half of the people with deep-vein thrombosis don’t have symptoms. So the best way to protect yourself is to reduce your risk by following a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise, losing weight if needed and not smoking.

Avoid immobility. Sitting or lying down for long periods allows blood to pool and can induce clotting. If you’re on a long trip and are unable to get up, you can exercise your legs while in your seat. Wear loose-fitting clothing that doesn’t restrict blood flow.

Recognizing symptoms

Be alert for symptoms. See your doctor promptly if you have unexplained swelling, pain, tenderness or redness in an arm or leg, as they could be signs of a dangerous clot.

A clot in the lungs is more serious because it can quickly become deadly. Signs include difficulty breathing, a rapid or irregular heartbeat, chest pain or discomfort, coughing up blood and feeling faint. If you have any of those symptoms, go to an emergency room or call 911; prompt treatment is essential.

Treatment

If you receive a diagnosis of a deep-vein thrombosis, your doctor will probably prescribe medication. The first anticoagulant treatment is usually given intravenously in the hospital, with heparin (preferably low-molecular-weight heparin) or fondaparinux (Arixtra and generics). This is often followed by warfarin (Coumadin, Jantoven and generics).

You probably won’t receive intravenous medication for more than a few days. After that, most people are switched to self-injections of heparin and to warfarin, which is usually taken in pill form. Warfarin takes two or three days to become effective, but once it does, heparin can be stopped and you can continue taking warfarin for several months or longer.

Copyright 2013. Consumers Union of the United States Inc.

For further guidance, go to www.ConsumerReports.org/Health, where more detailed information, including CR’s ratings of prescription drugs, treatments, hospitals and healthy-living products, is available to subscribers.

Impact of Blood Clots on the United States

Download:

Impact of Blood Clots on the United States pdf icon

Description

Title: Impact of Blood Clots on the United States

Venous Thromboembolism:

Impact of Blood Clots on the United States

Know the Lingo About Blood Clots

  • Deep vein thrombosis (DVT):
    Blood clot located in a deep vein, usually in a leg or arm.
  • Pulmonary embolism (PE):
    Blood clot that has traveled from a deep vein to a lung.

DVT and PE are also known as VTE (venous thromboembolism).

Blood Clots Affect Many People

  • VTE affects as many as 900,000 Americans each year.
  • 3 in 10 people who have a blood clot will have another episode within 10 years.

Blood Clots Can Be Deadly

  • As many as 100,000 people die of blood clots each year.
  • PE is a leading cause of death in a woman during pregnancy or just after having a baby.
  • Sudden death – 1 of 4 people who have
    a PE die without warning.
  • Blood clots are a leading cause of death in people with cancer after the cancer itself.

Blood Clots Are Costly

  • Blood clots cost our nation up to $10 billion each year.
  • Treatment can be as much as $15,000 to $20,000 per person and often results in readmission to the hospital.

Things to Know

  • Blood clots can happen to anyone.
  • They are often preventable.
  • Early diagnosis is critical to prevent death.
  • Take action now to prevent blood clots.
  • Talk with your doctor about the risks for blood clots
    and learn how they can be prevented.

For more information, please visit: cdc.gov/ncbddd/dvt/index.html

About the author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *