The human body is designed to protect itself against cuts and wounds through the blood’s clotting mechanism. When the platelets realize there is damaged tissue, certain proteins trigger a chemical process to block up the bleeding area. Sometimes, this process goes wrong, and a thrombus, or blood clot, can form internally, right inside the vein.
Blood clots are dangerous in two ways. First, when the clot forms in a vein or artery, it can block up the vessel. Blood can no longer pass through unhindered, and serious complications can arise. When this occurs in the outer layer of the vessel network, there are rarely serious repercussions. Superficial phlebitis can be painful and cause swelling or redness, but treatment is minimal.
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is much more serious; a clot forms in the more interior, deeper-placed veins, particularly in the calf. Pain and swelling is associated with this more severe form of thrombus. Because of the damage that happens to the affected veins, postphlebitic syndrome may occur up to years afterwards. Additionally, it can also lead to traveling blood clots.
If the clot comes loose, it can be carried along the bloodstream and end up in dangerous places. If a DVT clot breaks free, it can travel to the lungs, which may result in a pulmonary embolism. This occurs when a major vessel in the lungs becomes clogged with the clot, a condition that can ultimately be fatal. Shortness of breath, chest pain, and coughing up blood are all signs of a possible pulmonary embolism. When a clot forms because of atrial fibrillation (afib), a type of heart arrhythmia, the clot may travel to the brain, causing a stroke. Signs of afib include include chest pain, lightheadedness, difficulty breathing, fatigue, and palpitations. Many people with afib exhibit no symptoms, making the condition, and the risk of a blood clot, that much more serious.
When to See a Doctor
With so many types of clots, and the potentially fatal risks involved, it’s important to pay attention to your body. If you notice a particular area, especially on the legs, is painful, swollen, numb, or red, make an appointment with your doctor. Since the symptoms of clots are not always obvious, it is possible for the more serious risks of clots to develop with little to no warning. If you find you are having chest pain, difficulty breathing, a rapid pulse, difficulty speaking or seeing, pain from the shoulder down the arm, sudden weakness, or any of the other symptoms of a pulmonary embolism, heart attack, or stroke, seek immediate emergency care.