Info About Blood Clots I Learned The Hard Way

by | Aug 22, 2017 | Stories

Red happy shoes in grass and dandelions for information learned about blood clots blogBlood clots are a common and potentially life-threatening condition affecting upwards of 900,000 Americans each year, killing 100,000 of those people. Although treatable and generally a preventable disorder, they still cause more deaths than breast cancer, AIDS, and motor vehicle accidents combined.

Did you know that? I didn’t either until I started researching information as I sat in a hospital waiting room waiting for my own diagnosis. I think deep down, we all carry around some form of invincibility, keeping us grounded from the “what ifs” or “it won’t happen to me”. Yet, here I am, in my thirties, a survivor of two blood clots, a DVT in my subclavian vein near the clavicle, and a DVT in the basilic vein, found in the upper extremity of the arm. “Survivor” can take on a different meaning for everyone, For me, it doesn’t mean crusader, but instead, accepting vulnerability and sharing awareness on a public health burden.

What is a blood clot?

Our blood has a fairly simple job; it’s designed to continuously flow throughout our bodies for an entire lifetime. When you are injured or cut, clotting occurs to prevent a person from losing too much blood, but when the clots don’t dissolve they can become dangerous or life-threatening. A blood clot is a clump of blood that has gone from a liquid to a gel-like or a semisolid state forming inside one of the major veins in the body. A clot that forms deep in the vein of a person’s arm or leg is know as a DVT or deep vein thrombosis. A blood clot that breaks off and moves to the lungs is known as a pulmonary embolism.

Different types of blood clots

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT):

A DVT is the name of a clot that forms in one of the major veins deep inside the body for one of three reasons: slow or stagnant movement of blood in the vein, damage to the vein, or chemicals triggering clot formation. DVT’s are most likely to form in the legs but can also occur in the arms, pelvis, lungs, or brain. When a clot like this forms, it can partly or completely block the circulation of blood flow in the body. An immobile clot generally won’t harm you, but there’s a chance it can break free and travel to your heart and lungs.

Pulmonary Embolism (PE):

In the case a DVT breaks free from its original site in the veins, it can travel through the bloodstream to your lung arteries, preventing blood flow. A PE can typically be a blood clot from the leg, groin, pelvic area, or upper extremity veins. In 25% of people who experience a PE, the first symptom is sudden death.

Blood clots can be prevented and treated if you understand your risk for blood clots as well as the signs and symptoms connected to them.

Common risk factors for blood clots

Below are the common risk factors for blood clots listed from the National Blood Clot Alliance (NBCA). This non-profit health organization is dedicated to preventing, detecting, and treating blood clots related to deep vein thrombosis, pulmonary embolism, and clot-provoked strokes. The risks for developing a DVT or PE are:

  • Major or recent surgery, including the pelvis, abdomen, hip, and knee

  • Severe trauma, such as a car accident

  • Cancer or cancer treatments

  • Use of birth control methods that contain estrogen, such as the pill, patch, or ring

  • Pregnancy

  • A family history of DVT or PE

  • Obesity

  • Bed rest due to surgery, hospitalization, or illness

  • Recent immobility, for example while traveling by car or flying.

  • Smoking

The risk of blood clotting is much higher in older women, especially older women who are prescribed a hormone replacement, such as for post-menopausal therapy. The rate of a DVT in women older than 60, is 1 in 1000. Adding in an estrogen based HRT will increase this chance of developing a DVT or PE to 1 in 300 to 500. Although you can develop blood clots at any age, as you get older, the risk increases. It’s important to discuss with your doctor or healthcare provider if any of these risk factors apply to you.

What are the symptoms of a blood clot?

Our systems have a way of sending us subtle clues when something is not right in the body. If we pay attention to the signs and symptoms of blood clots, they can be treatable, if ignored, they can be potentially fatal.

DVT Signs and Symptoms:

  • Swelling of usually one leg (or arm)

  • Pain or tenderness in the area.

  • Reddish or blueish skin discoloration

  • Leg (or arm) warm to the touch

PE Signs and Symptoms:

  • Sudden shortness of breath

  • Sharp chest pain when breathing, or with deep breath

  • Coughing up blood or unexplained cough

  • Sudden collapse

  • Rapid heart rate

It is possible to have a blood clot with no obvious symptoms, but when they do appear it’s crucial to have these early warning signs checked out.

My story is not one that’s incredible, amazing, or extreme but it is still a terrifying test of survival. The impact blood clots have on the public health is staggering. The National Blood Clot Alliance reports every day, 274 people die due to blood clots but with patient education, understanding your risk factors, and spreading awareness we can help change these numbers.

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