What Is a Blood Clot?
A blood clot is a mass of blood that changes from liquid to a gel-like or semisolid state. Clotting is a necessary process that can prevent you from losing too much blood in certain instances, such as when you injure or cut yourself.
When a clot forms inside one of your veins it won’t always dissolve on its own. This can be a very dangerous and even life-threatening situation.
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a clot that occurs in one of the major veins deep inside your body. It’s most common for this to happen in one of your legs, but it can also happen in your arms, pelvis, lungs, or even your brain. An immobile blood clot generally won’t harm you, but there is the chance that it could move and become dangerous. If a blood clot breaks free and travels through your veins to your heart and lungs, it can get stuck and prevent blood flow. When it travels to your lungs, it’s called a pulmonary embolism (PE), which is a medical emergency.
The American Society of Hematology estimates that DVT affects 900,000 Americans each year and kills up to 100,000 of them. There’s no one way to know whether you have a blood clot without medical guidance. If you know the most common symptoms and risk factors, you can give yourself the best shot at knowing when to seek an expert option.
It’s possible to have a blood clot with no obvious symptoms. Some of the signs of a blood clot are the same as signs of other diseases. You should call your doctor immediately if you think you might have a blood clot. A healthcare professional will be able to look at your circumstances and let you know what steps to take from there.
The most common place for a blood clot to occur is in your lower leg, says Akram Alashari, M.D., a trauma surgeon and critical care physician at Grand Strand Regional Medical Center in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
A blood clot in your leg can have various symptoms, including:
Your symptoms will depend on the size of the clot. That’s why you might not have any symptoms or you might only have minor calf swelling without a lot of pain. If the clot is large, your entire leg could become swollen with extensive pain.
It’s not common to have blood clots in both legs at the same time. Your chances of having a blood clot increase if your symptoms are isolated to one leg.
The heart is a less common location for a blood clot, but it still can happen. A blood clot in the heart could cause your chest to hurt or feel heavy. Light-headedness and shortness of breath are other potential symptoms.
Severe abdominal pain along with vomiting and diarrhea could be symptoms of a blood clot somewhere in your abdomen. These also could be symptoms of a stomach virus or food poisoning.
A blood clot in your brain could cause a sudden and severe headache along with some other symptoms, including sudden difficulty speaking or seeing.
A blood clot that travels to your lungs is called pulmonary embolism (PE). Possible symptoms that could be a sign of a PE are:
Part 3 of 4: Risk Factors
Certain risk factors increase your chances of having a blood clot. A recent hospital stay, especially one that’s lengthy or related to a major surgery, increases your risk of a blood clot.
Common risk factors that can put you at a moderate risk for a blood clot include:
Part 4 of 4: Seeking Help
Diagnosing a blood clot by symptoms alone is very difficult. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost 50 percent of people with DVT have no symptoms. This is why it’s best to call your doctor if you’re concerned for any reason that you might have one.
Symptoms that come out of nowhere are especially concerning. Call a doctor or 911 immediately if you experience any of the following:
A doctor or other healthcare professional will be able to tell whether there’s cause for concern and can send you for more tests to determine the exact cause. In many cases, the first step could be a noninvasive ultrasound. This test can show an image of your veins, which can help your doctor make a diagnosis.