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Blood Clots (cont.)

What are signs and symptoms of a blood clot?

Signs and symptoms of a blood clot depend upon the situation, the amount of bleeding, and the location of the blood clot. Many times, the clot itself may cause no symptoms until it embolizes and becomes lodged in small blood vessels at distant sites in the body. The effects of the lack of blood supply to an affected organ will determine the symptoms.

  • In atrial fibrillation, the clots that form may not cause symptoms unless they embolize.
  • If the clot embolizes to an artery in the brain, the symptoms will be that of stroke.
  • If the embolus involves an artery that supplies blood to the small or large bowel (known as mesenteric ischemia), symptoms may include abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and bloody bowel movements.
  • In a leg or arm, a blood clot in a vein (deep venous thrombosis) can act as a dam and block blood from returning to the heart. This may cause inflammation of the vein, or thrombophlebitis. Common symptoms include swelling, redness or discoloration, warmth, and pain.
  • The major complication of a deep venous thrombosis occurs when the clot breaks off and travels to the lung, causing a pulmonary embolism. Symptoms and signs include chest pain, shortness of breath (rapid breathing and a fast pulse). This is a potentially life-threatening condition depending upon the extent of the lung tissue that loses blood supply and the effect it has on both heart and lung function.
  • Signs and symptoms of an arterial clot depend upon which organ is losing its blood supply.
    • If it is located in a coronary artery, there may be signs of heart attack.
    • Cerebral artery occlusion by clot will manifest in signs of stroke.
    • A patient with an arterial clot to an arm or leg will develop a painful, cool, white, pulseless extremity.

How do blood clots form?

Blood flows through the body in a continuous loop. Blood is pumped through the body by the heart, but that same blood returns back to the heart both by gravity and by the muscles of the arms and legs contracting and squeezing, or milking, the blood back to the heart. If blood becomes stagnant, it may clot and cause potential life-threatening conditions.

The medical term for a blood clot is a thrombus (plural: thrombi). An embolus refers to the situation in which the clot breaks away from its original location and travels through the bloodstream to another location.

There are four potential outcomes regarding a blood clot. It will either

  1. grow,
  2. dissolve,
  3. embolize, or
  4. recannulate (a situation in which capillary blood vessels proliferate within the clot to form new channels so that blood may resume flow)

Blood clots that increase in size or embolize may cause limb (arm, leg) or life threatening conditions.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/13/2016

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