People with active inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) are up to 16 times more likely to have a potentially life-threatening blood clot than those in the general population, according to a British study recently published in the journal, The Lancet. The two most common forms of IBD are Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, both of which may cause a number of health problems, including pain, abdominal cramping, diarrhea, weight loss, and intestinal bleeding.

The study compared the blood clot risk of 13,756 IBD sufferers and 71,672 people without the disease and found that 139 people with IBD developed blood clots, compared to just 165 from the much larger control group. Overall, IBD patients were 3.4 times more likely to develop a blood clot than people without IBD. However, the risk for developing a blood clot rose dramatically to eight times greater for those with active IBD (also known as flare-up IBD). The absolute risk remains relatively low, though-about the same as for pregnant women, according to study coauthor Matthew Grainge, Ph.D., of the University of Nottingham. The riskiest time, notes Dr. Grainge, is just after surgery, especially when the procedure requires many days of bed rest. Sitting for long periods of time, for example, on long airplane flights or on automobile drives, can also increase blood clot risk.

Blood clots (also called deep vein thrombosis) can become deadly when they break loose from the large veins in the legs or groin and travel to the lungs. About two million people each year in the U.S. develop deep vein thrombosis and nearly 650,000 die every year.

Here's How to Lower Your Risk for Blood Clots

While the study authors concluded that symptomatic IBD patients who are not hospitalized might benefit from short-term therapy with anti-clotting drugs, other medical experts disagree, saying that treating all non-hospitalized patients with anti-coagulants is premature and can add to the disease burden. If you are concerned about your individual risk of developing blood clots, speak with your healthcare provider to determine if preventative therapy with anti-clotting drugs is right for you. These tips can also help:

  • Get up and move. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, staying active and moving around may help prevent blood clots. Talk to your doctor about what exercises might be best for you.
  • Occasionally raise your legs six inches above your heart.
  • Don't sit or stand for more than one hour at a time.
  • Eat less salt.