Here are two words that typically never sound good together, or alone: “blood” and “clots.”
Why is this? After all, we need blood, and donating it is a noble action. And tiny clots are always forming and disappearing, but they are instrumental in assisting us the most when we need to stop bleeding after injury.
Blood clots have been in the news lately after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton developed dehydration after a stomach virus, fell, and suffered a concussion. During a follow-up exam, a clot was discovered in a type of blood vessel called a “vein” between her brain and the inside of her skull.
Whenever we hear of someone with a serious medical condition, we sympathize for the ill person and wish them well. But many of us often wonder if this could happen to me. Especially if we share something in common with him or her, such as age, a recent fall, or some other similar condition.
Like many topics in medicine, a medical condition can mean many different things depending on severity, location in the body and what caused the problem. The same is true for blood clots.
Small clots in the body form and dissolve all the time without problem. But if the clot blocks the flow of blood, a person may feel the result. These feelings, or symptoms, depend on where the clot is located. The seriousness of the clot also depends on the location and the size of the clot.
For example, veins are low-pressure blood vessels that bring blood back to the heart. Because the flow of blood is slower than the high pressure arteries, blood clots can form. If this occurs in the leg of a person who has been sitting for hours on a plane or in a car, this clot may cause swelling and pain in the leg. If part of the blood clot in the leg breaks off, it will float up to the heart and then get stuck in the small blood vessels of the lung. Now the person could feel short of breath, cough up blood, develop chest pain and faint from low blood pressure. This condition of a blood clot in the lung can be life threatening. It is called a pulmonary embolism.
Other blood clots may not cause serious conditions or may be discovered while doing a test for another unrelated condition. These clots might have disappeared without the patient ever knowing. But if a clot causes a person to feel a problem like swelling, pain, or shortness of breath, their doctor can prescribe medicine that help the body dissolve the clot. These medicines are often called “blood thinners.”
Remember, not all blood clots are the same. If a blood vessel leaks, for example, after a fall or a hit on the head, a blood clot can form outside the blood vessel. This may cause similar swelling or more serious conditions if it is inside the skull, like: headaches, seizures and vomiting. In these situations, blood thinning medications would not be used and a doctor might recommend surgery to remove the clot or further tests.