What is a Blood Clot?
Understanding and Protecting Yourself From Blood Clots
Blood clots, like many things in life, possess both positive and negative qualities. If you cut yourself with a knife while making dinner, clotting occurs to ensure you do not lose too much blood. However, clots can be dangerous when they form where they are not necessary. Here is some more information you may need to know about blood clots.
What is a Blood Clot?
Blood cells move throughout the body in liquid form but can thicken around damaged blood vessel walls. A blood clot is what forms when blood cells stick to the walls and each other to form a mass that fills a hole and stops blood from leaking out. When working properly, the clot only spreads as far as it needs to. As your body heals, the clot breaks down and dissolves.
Clotting begins as a reaction to damaged blood vessel walls sending signals, but plaque from cholesterol can also trigger the clotting process. This is when blood clots become a problem as clotting can occur where it is not wanted. Clots make it difficult for blood to flow freely and travel through the body. In addition to blood coagulating where it is not supposed to, blood clots also pose risks when becoming mobile. A clot that forms to prevent blood loss could travel elsewhere and impede the flow of blood.
Plaque can gather in the arteries that take blood to the heart. When this build up breaks off the walls of the artery, a blood clot can form around it that blocks blood flow and causes a heart attack. Detecting a heart attack quickly is essential to get blood flowing to the heart, and drugs that stop clots could be used to do this. Symptoms of a heart attack may include:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
Cells stop functioning when blood cannot deliver oxygen to them, and a stroke may happen when blood cannot reach the brain. Drugs to stop clotting must be given quickly to stop the stroke. To detect a stroke and get help “fast,” think of this:
F – face drooping
A – arm weakness
S – speech difficulty
T – time to call 911
Heart attacks or strokes are the result of blood clots called an arterial thrombus. An arterial thrombus causes an emergency situation where symptoms rapidly develop. If an arterial thrombus happens in an arm or leg, one might notice that the tissue becomes white, there is less sensation and the area feels cool.
Venous blood clots occur more slowly with symptoms developing over the course of hours. You should learn about the history of blood clots in your family to help a physician reach the correct diagnosis. Symptoms for this type of clot include pain and discoloration where the clot is located and gradual swelling.
If you might have a venous blood clot, it is likely that an ultrasound will be used to attempt to detect it. However, there are other ways to check for clots like blood tests, MRIs or CT scans.
If you have a family history of blood clots or have a condition that blood clots are associated with, you might want to take preventative action. You can do this by quitting smoking and managing your cholesterol levels and blood pressure. Being active by walking or stretching can also prevent clots from forming due to long periods of inactivity.
Understanding how and why blood clots form can help you assess your risk, and learning about the symptoms of blood clots and prevention methods might allow you to live a healthier life.