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Under normal circumstances, the blood will clot, or coagulate, in response to an injury in order to halt excessive bleeding somewhere in the body. Usually these clots simply dissolve on their own. But in certain situations, a clot can form without the presence of an injury and does not dissolve naturally. That's when a blood clot can become a health problem that warrants medical attention.
Abnormal blood clots can occur for a variety of reasons. They occur more often in the elderly, and you're at a greater risk if you don’t move around a lot, have had a recent surgery or are obese. Other risk factors include bad bruises or broken bones, taking certain hormones, varicose veins, certain heart problems or a family history of blood clots, among others.
Deep-vein thrombosis (DVT), for example, is a type of clot that forms in a major vein of the leg or, in some cases, in the arms, pelvis or other large veins in the body.
Symptoms and Complications
It’s often difficult to tell if you have a blood clot. However, the body may offer some warning signs. These can include pain, swelling or soreness in an arm or leg. You might also notice skin redness or warmth at the site of the clot.
The greatest health risks from blood clots stem from the complications that they can cause. For example, a blood clot can break loose and travel to the lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism. This may cause such symptoms as chest pain, a rapid heartbeat, breathing problems, a bloody cough or fainting. Clots can also travel to the heart, brain or abdomen and cause additional problems in these parts of the body, as well.
Treatment of Blood Clots
The risk for blood clots can be reduced with regular exercise and a healthy diet that includes less salt. It may also help to wear loose-fitting clothes, or compression stockings if prescribed by your doctor. Other strategies that may reduce the risk for blood clots include raising your legs above your heart occasionally from a lying position, raising the foot of your bed a few inches or taking breaks to get up and move from time to time if you're on a long trip.
Blood clots can be treated with medications that thin the blood (anticoagulants) or specific "clot-busting" medications that break them up. In some cases, clots may need to be removed with a catheter or through open surgery.
SOURCES: American Society of Hematology; U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality