SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KRON) – Blood clots affect 900,000 Americans every year and result in one in four deaths worldwide.
Blood clots are considered one of the biggest health problems that the public doesn’t know about, so warning signs are often ignored.
Our health expert, Karen Owoc, is here to shine some light on this life-threatening but preventable condition.
Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)
• As we talked about last week, blood clots can lead to heart attacks as well as strokes.
• DVTs are blood clots that occur in the large, deep veins — usually in the leg or pelvis — They also form in the arm, brain, intestines, liver, or kidney.
• More people die from blood clots than breast cancer, AIDS, and motor vehicle collisions combined.
• When blood clots form, they may partially or completely block blood flow.
• Clots can break loose, travel to the lungs, and block off blood flow to the lungs, a.k.a. pulmonary embolism (PE) —> Life threatening!
• About 20% to 30% of people with DVT will develop a PE.
• Superficial veins, which do 10% of the work, are visible through the skin, and have many pathways back to the heart. These veins can bulge (varicose veins).
• Varicose veins (5 times more likely to develop a DVT)
• WARNING! A superficial blood clot can become so large that it connects to the deep vein system, can break off, and travel to the lungs.
Risk Factors for a Blood Clot
• Hospitalization, particularly involving physical trauma, surgery, or prolonged immobility (the most common)
• Being overweight — More body fat means there are more lipids in the blood, which increases risk of developing blood clots.
• Tobacco — Nicotine causes blood vessels to constrict (narrow), which reduces the flow of blood to your organs and clots are more likely to develop.
• Drinking more than 3 oz of liquor per week (2 shots of hard liquor) increases the risk of DVT by 5%.
• Alcohol activates platelets, so they are more likely to form clots.
• Long-term, excessive drinking causes long-term, consistent platelet activation.
• Liver damage reduces the ability to produce proteins that regulate blood clotting.
• Serious medical conditions, e.g., heart and lung disease, diabetes, cancer, having a pacemaker
• Sedentary lifestyle
• Calf muscles, when contracting, are the body’s “pump” that moves blood ‘upstream’ through the veins.
• If driving, stop every 2 to 3 hours, get up and walk, exercise calf muscles.
• Family history of blood clots
• Taking birth control pills or hormone therapy
Why Cancer Patients are Susceptible to Clots
• 20% of clots occur in cancer patients (2nd leading cause of death among cancer patients). Certain types of cancers secrete proteins, which pose a greater danger for clots:
• Brain, blood, lungs
• Stomach, pancreas, kidneys
• Uterus, ovaries
How to Catch a Clot (Know the Symptoms)
Catch a clot before it travels and may be life-threatening:
• Know the symptoms of a blood clot, especially:
• Swelling (sometimes comes on suddenly)
• Area may be warmer than usual
• Skin that is red or discolored
• No symptoms! (You may not know you have DVT until the clot travels to your lung.)
• Blood clot symptoms can take 3 to 6 months to improve.
• Several years after having DVT, 20% to 40% of patients experience chronic complications called post-thrombotic syndrome (PTS), a chronic lifelong condition. Signs of PTS:
• Pain (aching or cramping)
• Chronic leg swelling
• Itching or tingling
• Brownish, bluish, or reddish skin discoloration
• Leg ulcers (“venous stasis ulcers”)
A DVT is a medical emergency! Never wait to see if the symptoms will go away.
Symptoms of a Pulmonary Embolism (PE)
• Sudden shortness of breath (check oxygen saturation with a pulse oximeter)
• Sharp chest pain (often comes with coughing or movement)
• Pain in the back
• Unusual sweating
• Fast heartbeat
• Feeling dizzy or fainting
Treatment for Clots
• Anticoagulants (blood thinners)
• Thrombolytics (medications that dissolve existing clots)
• Compression stockings (can reduce swelling and risk of clot formation)
• Surgery — stents (which can increase risk for more clotting) and vascular filters (“inferior vena cava filters”)
• An inferior vena cava (IVC) filter is placed in a large vein and “catches” a clot before they travel up to the lungs
The Takeaway: Trust your instincts, be your own health advocate, and develop a relationship with a primary care physician, so you have somebody to go to when you know something doesn’t feel “right”.