Blood Clot Symptoms, Prevention & Treatment

Blood clot symptoms are extremely important to keep an eye out for. They can be your warning sign for serious complications that can lead to death.

What is a blood clot?

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Blood clots can form in arteries (carries blood away from heart) and/or veins (carries blood to the heart) and the risks and symptoms are quite distinct for each.

Venous clots are the predominant issue in the bariatric surgery population... arterial issues are typically dealt with pre-surgery, and many of those patients will be screened out if they are too high risk. Because of this, the rest of this page will focus primarily on venous blood clots.

A simple way to understand a blood clot, also called a “thrombus”, is to consider what happens when you get a regular cut on your skin. After a few minutes, a small cut will stop bleeding because “platelets” in your blood cause the blood to coagulate (change from a liquid into a semi-solid state).

The same holds true for a blood clot - platelets cause your blood to coagulate - except that it’s happening inside of your body. The clot itself is relatively small and forms inside the heart or a blood vessel, especially when normally flowing blood is slowed down (from clogged arteries, for example) or becomes stagnant. After a blood clot detaches from the location where it formed it becomes an “embolus”.

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Blood Clot Symptoms

The warning signs of a blood clot depend on where in the body it forms.

The blood clot could remain harmlessly connected to the wall of a blood vessel until your body breaks it down. In this case, you would likely never know that it was there.

If the clot breaks free, it can get stuck in smaller blood vessels throughout your body (called a “thromboembolism”). This can prevent oxygen from reaching certain body parts and may cause serious problems for the bariatric surgery patient, including:

  • Blood Clots in Legs or Arms – deep vein thrombosis (DVT). DVT can lead to a pulmonary embolism. Symptoms of deep vein thrombosis include…
    • Swelling or pain in the legs/arms
    • Redness or discoloration
    • Arms/legs feeling warm
  • Blood Clot in Lungs – pulmonary embolism. The most common symptoms include...
    • Chest pain (most common)
    • Dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting (second most common)
    • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
    • Chest pain
    • Parts of your body turn blue (i.e. lips, skin)
    • Fever
    • Coughing up blood
    • Increased heart rate
    • Low blood pressure
If you have any of the above blood clot symptoms, play it safe and call your doctor immediately.
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Who has a higher risk of developing a blood clot?

There are several factors that can increase your risk of a blood clot, many of which you can improve or eliminate altogether.

The following factors are controllable through medicine, surgery or lifestyle changes…

"Many factors contributing to the risk of developing a blood clot are controllable through medicine, surgery or lifestyle changes."

  • Regular exercise reduces the risk of blood clots and blood clot symptoms by 39% in women and 22% in men, according to a study published in the Journal of Thrombosis and Haemostasis.1
  • Living a sedentary lifestyle or being overweight. Obese people are 2.5 times more likely to develop a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and 2.21 times more likely to have a pulmonary embolism.2
  • Traveling for long periods of time without doing proper exercises. The risk of blood clots doubles after travel that lasts 4 hours or more.3 Boeing’s site has good travel exercise tips.
  • Smoking or living in a polluted city. Smokers are up to 3.3 times more likely to have a pulmonary embolism than non-smokers.4 Regarding pollution, a Harvard School of Public Health study found that for every 10 microgrammes per square meter increase in the air’s small particulates, the risk of developing DVT goes up by 70%. Use the American Lung Association's Report Card to see how your city stacks up.
  • High cholesterol can cause plaque to build up inside your blood vessels which increases the risk of a clot.
  • High blood pressure
  • For some people, eating salt can increase blood pressure which can increase the risk of clotting.
  • Use of “patch” contraceptives – the use of transdermal contraceptives increases the risk of a thromboembolism by more than 2 times compared to oral contraceptives.5
  • Surgery increases the chance of blood clot formation. However, certain surgeries (including bariatric surgery) can improve several of the risk factors associated with blood clots.

The following factors which contribute to a higher risk of clotting are out of your control. However, you should still be mindful that these increase your risk, especially if any of the points above apply to you…

  • Being over 50 years of age
  • Being diabetic
  • Having a family history of clotting disorders or heart/vascular disease
  • Having cancer, as it often causes people to have a higher amount of platelets in their blood
  • Pregnant women have a higher risk due to the weight of the baby pushing on the veins in the pelvis area
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How to avoid blood clots

There are several things you can do to reduce your risk of blood clots. Talk with your doctor to determine which are the most appropriate for you…

  • Wear loose clothing
  • Wear graduated compression stockings7
  • To keep the blood flowing after surgery, use compression devices and/or graduated compression stockings on your legs and start moving around as soon as possible.
  • Exercise regularly
  • Periodically raise your arms and legs 6 inches above your heart to improve blood flow (you can get your legs above your heart when lying down)
  • Raise the bottom of your bed by 4 to 6 inches (by putting books under the lower half of your mattress, for example) to improve circulation in the lower part of your body
  • Eat fish. Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish can help make the blood less sticky and therefore less likely to clot.
  • Eat less salt
  • Stop smoking
  • Lose weight
  • Exercise while on long flights
  • Talk with your doctor about prescribing blood thinners (also called “anticoagulants”)
  • Get your cholesterol under control with diet and medication if necessary. Taking statins can reduce the risk of stroke by 21%, and every 10% reduction in LDL cholesterol levels brings down the risk of stroke by over 15%.6
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How to treat blood clots and
blood clot symptoms

If it is determined that you do have a venous blood clot, there are several ways your doctor may treat it…

  • Anticoagulants prevent additional clots from forming (note that blood thinners can make it difficult for your body to stop the bleeding from an injury)
  • “Clot buster” medications (called “thrombolytic” medications) are given through an IV and are used to dissolve a blood clot
  • Thrombolytic treatments via a catheter are a more direct way of getting the medication to the clots
  • Vena cava filters are sometimes used of other treatments don’t work. The filters are implanted in the vena cava (the large vein that carries blood from the legs to the heart and lungs) to help stop clots from traveling up the body.
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References for Blood Clot Symptoms

  1. Science Daily Science News. Regular Exercise Reduces Risk Of Blood Clots, Study Suggests. Nov 2007. Available at: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/
    2007/11/071120124245.htm. Accessed: Oct 20, 2009.
  2. American Journal of Medicine. Available at: http://www.amjmed.com/article/S0002-9343(05)00207-X/abstract
  3. World Health Organization. Study results released on travel and blood clots. June 2007. Available at: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2007/pr35/en/http://www.bariatric-surgery-source.com/. Accessed: Oct 20, 2009.
  4. A prospective study of risk factors for pulmonary embolism in women.  - Goldhaber SZ - JAMA - 26-FEB-1997; 277(8): 642-5 (MEDLINE® is the source for the citation and abstract of this record )
  5. Cole, J Alexander; Norman, Heather; Doherty, Michael; Walker, Alexander M. Venous Thromboembolism, Myocardial Infarction, and Stroke Among Transdermal Contraceptive System Users. Obstetrics & Gynecology. 109(2, Part 1):339-346, February 2007. doi: 10.1097/01.AOG.0000250968.82370.04
  6. Ross HM. High Cholesterol and Stroke Risk: Can Having High Cholesterol Levels Increase Your Stroke Risk? About.com. Available at: http://cholesterol.about.com/lw/Health-Medicine/Conditions-and-diseases/
    Cholesterol-and-Stroke-Risk.htm. Accessed: Oct 21, 2009.
  7. Sachdeva A, Dalton M, Amaragiri SV, Lees T. Elastic compression stockings for prevention of deep vein thrombosis. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2010, Issue 7. Art. No.: CD001484. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD001484.pub2.

[Last editorial review/modification of this page: 10/9/2013]

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