Blood clots can occur in either veins or arteries. Veins are the vessels that carry deoxygenated blood away from organs to the heart. An abnormal clot that usually forms in a vein in the legs (sometimes it’s in the arms pelvis or another body part) and impedes the flow of blood to the heart is called a deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
Pulmonary embolism is a medical condition that is a result of a blood clot moving from one area of the body, usually the arms or legs, into the veins of the lung. Once wedged there, the blood clot prevents adequate blood flow and causes health complications and, in some cases, death.
Arteries carry oxygen and nutrient-rich blood from the heart to other parts of the body. Clotting in the arteries is usually linked to atherosclerosis, a hardening of plaque on the artery walls. When the plaque breaks off the wall, the body sometimes overreacts and forms an unnecessary clot in the artery, which could lead to a stroke or heart attack.
The risk factors for forming a venous and arterial clot are not necessarily the same, so getting one type of clot may not lead to the other. Different risk factors can cause blood clotting in different ways.
Blood clots may be hereditary. Children and siblings of venous thrombosis patients are twice as likely to have developed the condition than those without a family history. The risks of inheriting the condition increase even further if the family member had developed the clots at a younger stage. The risks quadrupled if more than one relative was affected.
Activity level and weight
Being inactive or at rest for long periods increases the risk of blood clotting. Without activity, blood will slow down in the deep veins and increase the chances of clotting. The low activity includes long travelling times (in a car, train, or plane), being seated for extended periods (especially cross-legged), or lying in rest at the hospital.
Being overweight can cause complications to your health. The bulk will weigh heavily on the lower half of the body. The weight will, in turn, put pressure on the veins in the pelvis and legs. Please note that being overweight does not mean that you will get blood clots; it just increases the risks of clots occurring.
Previous medical history
A pulmonary embolism may occur:
- After long periods of inactivity, such as after surgery or bed rest.
- When the veins have been damaged or experienced severe trauma, for example, a broken bone, severe muscle injury, surgery (especially in the pelvis, hip, knee or leg), or a car accident.
- As a result of another medical condition, such as cardiovascular disease (including congestive heart failure, atrial fibrillation, and heart attack) or stroke.
- Cancer or chemotherapy
- When clotting factors in the blood are increased, elevated, or in some cases, lowered.
- After a pregnancy, up to 3 months
- Women who take hormone replacement therapy or birth control (pill, ring, or patch).
Smoking raises the risk of unwanted blood clots as it destroys your circulatory system.
The walls of the blood vessels are lined with cells that prevent normal blood clotting on them. Smoking severely damages this lining, which results in blood clotting.
Smoking also affects the platelets in your body. The practice makes it more likely that the platelets will stick to each other, which ultimately results in blood clots.
Luckily, it’s treatable
Treatment and medicine for PE differs according to where it is in the body and the state of your health, here are the options available:
- Anticoagulants: medicine that thins the blood and inhibits it from coagulation or forming clots
- Thrombolytics: (sometimes referred to as fibrinolytic therapy) medicine that dissolves or breaks down blood clots
- Catheter-directed thrombolysis: a minimally invasive procedure wherein a long tube, called a catheter, is surgically inserted and directed (using imaging guidance) toward the blood clot where it directly delivers a lytic or clot-dissolving medication
- Thrombectomy: the surgical removal of a clot under image guidance
Manage the risks
Any of the above risk factors does not automatically mean that you have blood clots in your blood vessels, it merely increases the chances that you do. If any of the above factors apply to you, you should immediately contact a doctor and consult with them.
As with all medical conditions, prevention is always better than cure. For example, quitting smoking, managing your weight, and exercising can have huge immediate benefits.