Blood Clots 101

Blood clots, which are basically hardened clumps of blood formed by platelets and the protein in plasma to stem the bleeding of an injured blood vessel, have numerous causes: a surgical procedure, an injury, oral contraceptives, prolonged immobility, obesity, heredity, etc. In the case of deep-vein thrombosis (DVT), a blood clot develops in a vein in the leg, or sometimes in the arm or the pelvis. If the clot travels from the spot where it originated and becomes lodged in the lungs, it can stop the flow of blood to the lungs, a life-threatening condition known as a pulmonary embolism (PE).

Although DVT has been tied to heart attack and stroke-a 2007 Danish study published in The Lancet revealed that people who had suffered a DVT or a PE faced a 60 percent greater risk of heart attack and a 50 percent greater chance of having a stroke in the year that followed the event-both conditions are often brought about by blood clots in the arteries. The plaque that gathers on artery walls due to atherosclerosis is a primary generator of blood clots in the arteries[1]-those that block the flow of blood to the heart cause heart attacks and those that do the same to the brain trigger strokes. Since knowledge can give you the power to circumvent these potentially lethal clots, here are a few tips on how you can detect, deal with, and avoid them.

How to spot a blood clot: The symptoms, of course, correspond with where the blood clot is located. If it's in your leg or your arm, you would notice swelling at the site, which might feel painful or tender to the touch. If it's blocking the blood flow to your brain, you might experience a sudden, severe headache, blurred vision, slurred speech, or dizziness. If it has traveled to your lungs or your heart, you would feel pain in your chest and/or upper body and may excessively sweat and encounter shortness of breath. A PE is also often accompanied by a bloody cough and rapid pulse.

How to treat a blood clot: If you experience any of the symptoms mentioned above, you should get to a doctor immediately. He or she will most likely start you on a regimen of anticoagulants, a.k.a. blood thinners, but in emergency situations, thrombolytics, or clot busters, are employed. Procedures such as catheter-directed thrombolysis and thrombectomy might also be performed on blood clots located in your leg or your arm.

How to prevent a blood clot: Keeping atherosclerosis at bay is as easy as exercising every day, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, and not engaging in bad habits such as smoking. If you have a disease that is linked to excessive blood clotting, such as diabetes, you should follow your doctor's advice to the letter and take extra care of yourself. You should also keep tabs on your homocysteine level: If it's too high, you might be able to bring it down by adding more foods full of folate and vitamins B6 and B12 to your diet. If you are genetically predisposed to excessive blood clotting, your doctor may put you on a regimen of warfarin, but there's some good news on the horizon: Researchers reported in May that nanoscale particles of silver have shown effectiveness in keeping blood platelets from sticking together without increasing a tendency for uncontrollable bleeding, which is a risk factor of the anticoagulants currently in use.[2]


[1] Prof Henrik Toft Srensen DMSc, Erzsebet Horvath-Puho MSc, Lars Pedersen MSc, Prof John A Baron MD, Prof Paolo Prandoni PhD, Venous thromboembolism and subsequent hospitalisation due to acute arterial cardiovascular events: a 20-year cohort study, The Lancet, Volume 370, Issue 9601, Pages 1773-1779, 24 November 2007, doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(07)61745-0;

[2] Siddartha Shrivastava, Characterization of Antiplatelet Properties of Silver Nanoparticles, ACS Nano, May 4, 2009 (online);