Impacting roughly 900,000 people in the United States every year, blood clots are not uncommon and can be deadly. Preventive measures may help reduce the risk for this life-threatening occurrence.
Blocking the vital flow of blood between the brain, heart, lungs and other organs of the body, blood clots can cause a variety of symptoms, including chest pain, difficulty breathing, paralysis in the limbs and sometimes death. These clots may develop in the arteries or the veins. The symptoms vary depending on the location of the clot, which may cause complications such as deep vein thrombosis, heart attack, pulmonary embolism or stroke. The good news is that the risk of blood clots may be significantly reduced through lifestyle changes and proper medical attention. “Because several risk factors are largely treatable if detected early, recognizing them as well as the warning signs associated with blood clots is critical,” says Keith Swanson, MD, vascular medicine physician with Altru Health System. “Prevention is the mainstay.”
Are you at risk?
While blood clots are more common in adults over the age of 60, they can impact anyone. Specifically, the risk factors for a venous blood clot include:
- Being overweight
- Chronic inflammatory diseases such as lupus and multiple sclerosis
- Family history
- Sitting for long periods of time
- Some forms of cancer
- Use of oral contraceptives
Arterial blood clots are just as dangerous as those that develop in the veins. The factors listed below may increase the risk for this type of clot:
- High blood pressure and cholesterol
- Lack of exercise
Additionally, Dr. Swanson notes that people receiving chemotherapy and those who have undergone trauma surgery also have a high risk of developing dangerous clots.
The Travel Component
When it comes to blood clots, lack of exercise over several hours is just as harmful as not getting physical activity for months or years. In fact, sitting for between six and eight hours without moving, for example during long car rides or air travel, can greatly increase the risk of developing a deadly clot. Dr. Swanson recommends getting out of the car or walking the aisles of a plane every hour to reduce the likelihood of dangerous clotting. Also, be sure to stay hydrated, choose loose-fitting clothing and wear graduated compression stockings.
According to the American Society of Hematology, controlling diet and exercise habits and incorporating the use of anticoagulants when appropriate may significantly reduce the risk of blood clots. Flexing and pointing the toes and doing ankle circle exercises may also be beneficial.
Featuring a full vascular lab, including an anticoagulation clinic, Altru Health System is well equipped to diagnose and treat blood clots. Vascular specialists may conduct a full vascular screening, which includes the three tests listed below, to detect conditions that increase the likelihood of blood clots:
- Abdominal Aortic Ultrasound—This noninvasive test captures images of the abdominal aorta by utilizing high-frequency sound waves. The abdomen is one of the most common places where blood clots may form.
- Ankle Brachial Index—Otherwise known as an ABI, this test compares blood pressure in the ankle with blood pressure in the arm to identify arteries that are blocked or have narrowed as a result of cardiovascular conditions.
- Carotid Ultrasound—Utilizing sound waves to take pictures of the carotid arteries in the neck, this noninvasive test helps doctors identify carotid artery disease, which may increase the risk of blood clots and stroke. These three screenings, when performed together, give physicians a picture of arterial complications.
PADnet testing may also provide physicians with important clues about a patient’s vascular health. This type of testing employs the use of segmented blood pressure and volume recordings to evaluate blood flow in the feet and legs.
If you are at risk for vascular disease, screening and diagnosis are key. Learn more at about vascular screening at Altru.