British Heart Foundation: Understanding blood clots
A blood clot is a mass of blood cells and other substances that form in blood vessels.
A certain amount of clotting is necessary as it prevents excessive bleeding.
However, clots that do not dissolve by themselves are a hazard.
This is because they can travel around the body potentially blocking blood flow to vital organs.
If this occurs it is essential you seek immediate medical attention.
One medical emergency that is caused by blood clots is a pulmonary embolism.
This happens when a blood clot blocks a blood vessel in your lungs, and can be life-threatening.
The NHS urges you to call 999 or attend A&E if you experience any of four symptoms of a pulmonary embolism.
These include if:
- You have severe difficulty breathing
- You feel pain in your chest or upper back
- Your heart is beating very fast
- Someone has passed out.
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However, the condition can also cause you to:
- Have difficulty breathing which comes on suddenly
- Cough up blood.
If you experience either of these signs you should get an “urgent” GP appointment or call 111, the health body says.
Risk of pulmonary embolism
According to the NHS, a pulmonary embolism “often” happens when part of a clot dislodges itself from the leg, travelling up to the lungs.
A blood clot in the leg is known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
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Several factors can increase your risk of DVT including if you:
- Are over 60
- Are overweight
- Have had DVT before
- Take the contraceptive pill or HRT
- Have cancer or heart failure
- Have varicose veins.
But your chances can also be raised by recent events such as if you:
- Are staying in or recently left hospital – especially if you cannot move around much (like after an operation)
- Are confined to bed
- Go on a long journey (more than three hours) by plane, car or train
- Are pregnant or if you’ve had a baby in the previous six weeks
- Are dehydrated.
Therefore to lower your risk of a DVT the NHS recommends maintaining a healthy weight, staying active and drinking plenty of fluids.
It also advises avoiding:
- Sitting still for long periods of time – get up and move around every hour or so
- Crossing your legs while you’re sitting
- Drinking lots of alcohol.
Symptoms of DVT in the leg include:
- Throbbing pain in one leg (rarely both legs)
- Swelling in one
- Warm skin around the painful area
- Red or darkened skin around the painful area
- Swollen veins that are hard or sore when you touch them.
Treatment for DVT and pulmonary embolism include taking anticoagulant medications to thin the blood.
In rare cases, surgery can be performed to remove a clot from the lungs.
If you think you could have DVT you should speak to your doctor.
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