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Blood Clots (cont.)

Blood Clot Symptoms

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 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 include chest pain and shortness of breath. 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.
  • 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, pulseless extremity.

When to Seek Medical Care for Blood Clots

Usually the symptoms of a blood clot will be enough to alert and potentially alarm a patient or their family enough to seek care.

An arterial clot prevents blood rich with oxygen and nutrients from getting to cells, causing them to stop functioning. This usually causes a true emergency and emergency services should be activated (often by calling 911).

  • If those oxygen-deprived cells are in the brain, then symptoms of stroke may be apparent. Time is of the essence in seeking emergency care. There is a narrow time window during which clot-busting drugs may be used to reverse the stroke. The acronym for symptoms of a stroke are FAST, which stands for:
    • F = drooping face
    • A = arm weakness
    • S = speech difficulty
    • T = time to call 911
  • A heart attack (myocardial infarction) occurs when the blood clot occludes a coronary artery (one of the arteries that supplies oxygen and nutrients to the heart muscle). The signs and symptoms of heart attack include:
  • Again, time is of the essence to try to re-establish blood supply to heart muscle by heart catheterization and balloon angioplasty and stent or by administering clot-busting drugs.
  • Other arterial clots will usually cause an acute onset of significant pain and will signal the need for emergency medical care.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/27/2015

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