Deadly Blood Clots (Heart, Lungs, Legs, Brain) Symptoms and Prevention

Blood clots are the body’s way of sealing off a break in a blood vessel. It stops blood loss and is eventually dissolved by the body once the damaged area is healed. Most of us see blood clots often on the skin surface following an injury and in these cases we refer to the clot as a scab. However, blood clots can also form within the bloodstream and this can be deadly if it blocks the flow of blood.

When is a blood clot deadly?

There are many different types of cells, chemicals and particles circulating in the bloodstream. Some of these substances exist for the purpose of clotting. When activated, these substances trigger a cascade of reactions that leads to the formation of a blood clot. It plugs the break in the blood vessel and bleeding should therefore stop. Eventually the body heals the break in the blood vessel and dissolves the clot.

Although a blood clot should form only when there is a break in a blood vessel, sometimes it can form within the blood vessel (artery or vein) even if it is not injured. A blood clot is more correctly known as a thrombus. As the thrombus gets bigger it may reduce the flow of blood and eventually block off this flow altogether. Depending on where it occurs, it can have different effects.

If the blood flow to the vital organs like the lungs, heart or brain is obstructed then it can be deadly because even minor injury to these organs can result in death. Not all blood clots that blocks an artery or vein forms at the site where it obstructs blood flow. Sometimes a thrombus breaks away from where it forms, travels through the bloodstream and eventually lodges elsewhere in the circulatory system. This moving blood clot is known as an embolus.

Read more on a blood clot.

Blood Clot in the Legs

Blood clots can form in any vessels within the legs. The more deadly outcome is when a clot forms in the deep veins of the legs. This condition is known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT). If it breaks away from the site where it formed, it can then travel to the right side of the heart, from where it is sent to the lungs. The clot can then block the pulmonary artery and this can be fatal. This condition is known as pulmonary embolism.

Signs and Symptoms

Usually only one leg is affected and the following signs and symptoms may be present:

  • Leg pain and tenderness
  • Swollen leg
  • Redness and warmth of the skin on the affect leg

Blood Clot in the Lungs

Although deep vein thrombosis is the most likely cause, of a blood clot in the lungs (pulmonary embolism) sometimes this blockage may be a blood clot from elsewhere in the body or even substances traveling through the bloodstream. This is also seen with heart disorders, surgery and certain cancers. Apart from blocking the flow of blood through the lungs, it can also lead to death of the lung tissue (pulmonary infarction). This can lead to death.

Signs and Symptoms

The more common signs and symptoms include:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cough

Other signs and symptoms that may also be present include:

  • Dizziness
  • Abnormal heartbeat (rapid and/or irregular)
  • Excessive sweating
  • Fever
  • Cold and clammy skin

Blood Clot in the Heart

Blood clots can form within the heart and then be released where it may cause blockages within the vessels supplying blood vessels to the vital organs like the lungs (pulmonary embolism) or brain (embolic stroke). However, there are instances where the coronary artery supplying blood to the heart muscle becomes blocked with a blood clot. This causes a heart attack (myocardial infarction) which can be deadly.

Signs and Symptoms

  • Chest pain
  • Pain radiating from the chest to the jaw, shoulder or arm (usually on the left side)
  • Excessive sweating
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion and anxiety
  • Loss of consciousness

Blood Clot in the Brain

A blood clot that blocks any of the arteries carrying blood to the brain can cause injury and death of the brain tissue. This is known as a stroke (cerebrovascular accident or CVA). The blood clot may not even be in the brain itself. Strokes caused by a blood clot in an artery is the more common type of stroke. Sometimes the blood clot can form in the artery that is blocked (thrombotic stroke) or the clot may travel from elsewhere to block the artery (embolic stroke).

Signs and Symptoms

  • Numbness and/or paralysis on one side of the body (most prominent in the face, arm or leg)
  • Difficulty speaking and/or seeing through one or both eyes
  • Confusion with difficulty understanding speech, identifying people and/or recalling information
  • Poor coordination and/or balance
  • Headache

How To Prevent Deadly Clots

Most of the common conditions where blood clots may arise are assosciated with risk factors such as:

  • Obesity
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Tobacco smoking
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • High blood lipids (cholesterol and/or triglycerides)
  • Diabetes

Medical conditions need to be treated appropriately with drugs, diet and lifestyles changes. Losing weight, regular exercise and stopping tobacco smoking can help prevent these deadly clots in many instances. With conditions like deep vein thrombosis, a person shoud beware of long flights or situations where there is prolonged periods of sitting or sleeping. Walking around during a flight can limit the chance of a clot.

Anti-clotting or blood-thinning drugs are widely used to prevent the formation of deadly blood clots in people who are at high risk of these clots. This includes drugs like aspirin or warfarin. These drugs prevent the platelets, an important component of clotting, from sticking together or delay the time it takes for a clot to form. Although these drugs are very effective, it does not exclude the need for dietary and lifestyle changes.

Read more on how to prevent clots in the legs.

People using anti-clotting drugs need to take the pills daily or as otherwise prescribed to prevent a deadly clot from forming. In addition, extra caution is needed when using these drugs as an injury can result in prolonged and excessive bleeding.

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