News from Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital and Hospital Foundation
Venous thromboembolism (VTE), refers to blood clots which occur in everyday life, or from a more serious health challenge. If you’ve gotten a papercut, blood clots form to stop the bleeding. Once it has done its job, it generally breaks up.
These gel-like blood clumps provide benefit to the body when they form in response to an injury or a cut by plugging the injured blood vessel to stop bleeding. It’s a complicated process where platelets, a type of blood cell, and proteins come together at the right time to plug things up.
There are over 900,000 reported VTE cases in the U.S. annually. Over 100,000 people die without warning with one in four from a pulmonary embolism (clots in the lungs arteries).
Blood clots form inside veins and may not dissolve naturally requiring medical attention, especially if they form in the legs or critical locations such as the lungs and brain. For example, when a clot forms in arteries that carry oxygen in the blood from the heart to cells in the body, it can prevent oxygen from getting to your heart, lungs, or brain and can result in a heart attack or stroke.
By learning the warning signs, you are more likely to get timely medical care. However, sometimes clots occur with very few or no symptoms. A clot that forms in the deep veins of the arms or legs may be deep vein thrombosis (DVT). DVT is more prevalent in those that are sedentary or haven’t moved around for a long time.
Symptoms include swelling where the blood clot forms. Or, the entire arm or leg may become puffy and take on a red or blue tinge. It may even start to itch. When clots become serious, they can hurt or become sore. Sometimes it is a dull ache, but some people experience intense pain or cramping.
As the body heals, it utilizes a protein called plasmin, which is a part of the clot. The body releases an activator which wakes up the plasmin that in turn breaks up the mesh-like substance that is part of the clot.
For more serious clots, physicians sometimes use medication. Sometimes blood thinners, also called anticoagulants, are used. This is most commonly used for DVT or after a stroke or pulmonary embolism. Blood thinners don’t dissolve the clot, but can prevent it from getting bigger or from new ones forming. This gives the body time to break up the clot.
For very serious conditions, thrombolytics (clot busting drugs) are used. Unlike blood thinners, they do break down the clot and turn on the plasmin.
There are many types of blood clots. A variety of specialists may be involved from diagnosis to treatment to prevention. These may include internists, family medicine physicians, emergency physicians, interventional radiologists, surgeons, cardiologists and more. If you suspect a clot, it is important to get it checked out and treated as soon as possible.
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