Blood Clots, Embolisms and Thrombosis
It is perfectly normal for blood to clot. A blood clot at the site of an injury protects us by stopping further blood loss and seals the body against external dirt and germs. This is a well known and understood phenomenon. What is less well known is that our bodies also frequently form clots inside our bodies. This is not a normal condition and can even be life threatening.
Usually our bodies break down any small clots that form inside our bodies and normal blood flow is quickly restored. Sometimes the clot is of such a size that it is not easily broken down by the body’s own mechanisms, or the clot breaks free and is transported around the body. It is when events such as these occur that medical attention will be required.
• The medical term for a blood clot is a thrombus.
• Thrombosis is the process of formation of a blood clot inside a blood vessel.
• Embolisms are a blood clot that breaks loose and travels with the circulatory system.
A thrombus is not normally life threatening, but this depends greatly upon the location of formation and the degree of occlusion (blockage) of the vessel in which it was formed. When a clot breaks loose and travels in the body as an embolism this is much more serious. It can be a serious threat to life.
Blood normally travels out from the heart through the body via the arteries and provides oxygen and nutrients to tissue and organs as it passes through increasingly narrow blood vessels called capillaries. The blood then returns to the lungs via the veins for re-oxygenation and from the lungs it then passes back to the heart for recirculation.
Risk Factors for Blood Clot Formation
- Genetic factors
- Surgical recovery
- International travel, especially by aeroplane
- Extended periods of bed rest
- Recovery from injury
- Oral contraceptive pill
- Hormone replacement therapy (H.R.T.)
- Sitting in one position for long periods of time
Suggestions to Mitigate Risks
Some of these factors can be mitigated by simple or inexpensive means. For example, when taking a long haul flight one can take a trip to the toilet and so walk around and avoid inactivity. Also, avoiding alcohol and not sleeping in the aircraft cabin can help.
Giving up smoking has significant health benefits aside from clot risks and probably should be something that every smoker ought to consider.
Other risk factors such as genetic predisposition to clotting (thrombophilia), cancer, or old age may of course be harder, or impossible, to mitigate.
Anti-coagulation drugs such as Warfarin or low molecular weight (L.M.W.) Heparin injections may also help to lower the risks associated with formation of blood clots. Anti-coagulation drugs can be extremely dangerous and should only be taken in consultation with a qualified health professional.
(This article is provided for educational purposes only. Information offered herein should not be construed to constitute a doctor-patient relationship. In all cases of serious illness you should consult a qualified health professional. )