Ask a Doctor
I fly a lot for work, and I’m relatively fit and healthy. Another salesman at our company, however, recently had to go to the hospital in an ambulance for what turned out to be a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) in his femoral artery. I started to worry about my risk of getting blood clots in my legs from all the sitting I do on international flights. Would I know if I were developing blood clots? Do blood clots sometimes go away on their own?
A blood clot is a mass made up of platelets and fibrin in the blood that forms to stop bleeding. When a blood clot forms where it shouldn’t, inside an artery or vein, it can cause problems because it can decrease the blood flow past the clot.
When clots form in the legs they are referred to as deep vein thrombosis (DVT). These clots can break off and go to the lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism (PE), which is a medical emergency and can be fatal. Blood clots can also cause heart attack or stroke.
Blood clots do go away on their own, as the body naturally breaks down and absorbs the clot over weeks to months. Depending on the location of the blood clot, it can be dangerous and you may need treatment.
Usually the signs and 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 dissolve the blood clot and 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. The goal is to have the blocked heart artery opened up within 60-90 minutes of the patient's arrival at a medical care facility.
- Other arterial clots will usually cause an acute onset of significant pain and will signal the need for emergency medical care.
For more information, read our full medical article on deep vein thrombosis.