Everyone is aware what blood is. It is always moving as the heart pumps it through arteries and veins. Arteries carry it away from the heart to different organs while veins return it to the heart. Veins are squeezed when taking the blood back to the heart.
Naturally, blood clots to help the body repair injured blood vessels. Complex body processes are involved in forming clots. Body cells called platelets produce a chemical which changes soluble protein in blood called fibrinogen to insoluble protein, fibrin, which then forms a network of fibres, trapping red blood cells and forming a clot. But other clotting factors produced by the body are also involved.
What are blood clots?
The medical term for a blood clot is thrombus. When a clot is formed as part of normal repair of damaged blood vessels, the consequences are minimal. Unfortunately, there are times when a blood clot forms unnecessarily. This can have harmful effects on the body.
There are different types of blood clots, depending on where they are formed;
1. Blood clots may form inside small veins near the surface of the skin. These clots rarely cause complications and require minimal treatment. They are characterised by localised redness, pain, and swelling.
2. Blood clots that form inside larger deeper veins. This is known as deep vein thrombosis and may cause widespread symptoms in the affected area. Most occur in leg or hip veins.
However, they can also occur in other parts of the body. The symptoms are swelling, tenderness or pain in the legs, redness, warmth in the skin of the affected leg, veins becoming visible, and leg fatigue.
3. Arterial thrombosis (clots found in arteries). They stop blood supply to the tissues beyond the blockage. The cells do not receive oxygen and nutrients, leading to tissue death. Such clots lead to heart attack and stroke.
4. Blood clots may also break away from the original source and cause damage elsewhere. Clots that break away from deep vein thrombosis and travel to the lungs cause a potentially life threatening condition called pulmonary embolism.
Symptoms of pulmonary embolism
Sudden and unexplained shortness of breath.
Sharp chest pains.
Sudden coughing which may lead to spitting of blood.
Effects of pulmonary embolism
Blood supply to the lungs is compromised and the affected area of the lung tissue may die.
The blockage of blood vessels affects the ability of the lungs to provide oxygen to other parts of the body.
Causes of clots
One major cause is lack of motion or prolonged sitting in one place. This could be due to being confined to a chair or bed for a long time.
Pregnancy or having given birth recently can lead to clots in the legs.
Having had a stroke or paralysis.
If one has varicose or defective veins.
They could also be inherited.
Birth control pills.
Overweight or obesity.
Serious injury (broken hip, pelvis, or leg).
Foods with high amounts of cholesterol.
Diagnosis of blood clots
There are different tests, depending on where the clot is;
CT scan. This is a specialised X-ray of the legs.
Use of anti-coagulant medication such as heparin, which is injected, or warfarin pills that are usually taken orally.
Combination of surgery and medicines.
Preventing blood clots
Frequent check-ups if you are overweight, have had a difficult birth or serious injury, have had surgery, and if on birth control pills,
Wear loose fitting clothes, socks, or stockings
Change your sitting position, especially during a long trip.
Do not sit or stand for a long time.
Eat less salt.
Avoid foods with high amounts of cholesterol.