Blood clots: When to Worry

That’s what a blood clot can be, because many people (as many as 900,000 annually) are stricken by this devastating health issue without enduring obvious symptoms or warning signs.

While blood clotting is a normal and necessary bodily function, the type of clots that are most worrisome are known as Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT). These clots typically form in deeply buried veins, like the ones that run along the back of your legs, but can also form in your groin area and even in your arms.

These clots are scary because if the clot breaks free within the vein, it can travel to the lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism. Pulmonary embolisms are dangerous, can block the flow of oxygen throughout the body and can lead to death.

How does it feel?

One of the scariest things about blood clots is that you may not feel anything particularly different before you are impacted by one. A clot may form in your leg and remain there undisturbed for a long while, then break free without warning and create a pulmonary embolism in the lung.

If a person does exhibit warning signs prior to being affected by a clot, these signs may include:

  • Pain: the pain associated with a blood clot is persistent. It lasts longer than a cramp or muscle strain and it is typically steady in one spot in one leg, where a cramp may occur at different places within one or both legs.
  • Swelling: Sometimes it can be difficult to differentiate clot-related swelling from other causes, including typical pregnancy-related swelling or swelling caused by long flights or extended bed rest. However, swelling from a clot is typically more noticeable in one limb, and, for pregnant women, is more common in the left leg.
  • Redness and warmth: If you see persistent skin discoloration in the potentially affected area (occasionally skin may present with a blue color as well), or if your skin feels unexpectedly warm to the touch, a clot may have formed.

Who’s at risk?

While the symptoms of deep vein thrombosis can be easily overlooked, there are a number of factors that can put you at higher risk for developing a clot. Typical risk factors include smoking, being overweight and aging. In addition, you should be on alert for the symptoms of blood clots after the following:

  • Taking a trip: Travel generally leads to sitting for longer periods of time without moving, especially if you’re spending long periods immobilized in a plane or car.
  • Experiencing hormone fluctuations: Taking hormone-altering medications, including hormonal birth control, can create the potential for clots because they increase hormone levels in your body to simulate pregnancy. Women’s bodies develop additional clotting protections during pregnancy to help protect from blood loss during childbirth or miscarriage. These clotting traits, while helpful in certain situations, can also be an additional risk factor for DVT.
  • Undergoing surgery: Recovery from surgery generally includes longer periods of inactivity, which can put you at risk of clotting.

When to seek care

If you feel shortness of breath, are coughing up blood or feeling faint, you should seek medical attention immediately in an emergency room setting.

If you experience symptoms, including pain and swelling in your extremities and are not certain whether you may be experiencing a clot, visit with an Integra Urgent Care physician. Our doctors can consult with you about risk factors and symptoms, then determine whether additional testing and/or treatment is necessary to help protect you from the effects of this silent killer.

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