Blood clots affect approximately three out of every 1,000 people, reports the National Blood Clot Alliance, and someone dies from a blood clot every six minutes. Yet many people don’t fully understand the different types of blood clots, their symptoms, and how you can reduce your risks. If you’re wondering what blood clots are and what you should do about them, this blood clots guide will give you valuable insights into this troublesome health condition.
Blood Clots Guide: Types of Blood Clots and Where They Occur in Your Body
Basic Definitions: There Are Two Types of Blood Clots
Arteries and veins make up your circulatory system (i.e., your vascular system). This system is responsible for carrying oxygen, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients to your different organs and tissues.
John Hopkins University defines arteries and veins as follows:
- Arteries: Blood vessels that carry oxygen and nutrient-rich blood from your heart to organs and tissues.
- Veins: Blood vessels that carry blood from your organs and tissues back to your heart.
Both types of blood vessels can develop blood clots. A blood clot is when your liquid blood changes from its liquid state to a more gel, or solid-like state, triggered by your blood platelets sticking to each other and emitting chemicals that thicken your blood (often in response to trauma or injury to a blood vessel).
The clot itself can restrict blood flow to a specific part of your body, which is obviously problematic. But it can pose an even greater danger if it breaks free from wherever it formed and travels to your heart or other organs.
Because a clot in your arteries or veins will travel either to your heart or away from your heart, and therefore have very different risks associated with it, doctors put blood clots into two categories:
- Venous clots: clots in a vein
- Arterial clots: clots in an artery
Blood Clot Locations and Symptoms: Blood Clots May Occur in 4 Main Areas of Your Body
Blood clots can develop in any vein or artery. But what’s most important is not so much where they originate, but where they travel and where they end up.
1. Deep-Vein Thrombosis (DVT)
When a clot forms in a vein very deep within your body, it’s referred to as deep-vein thrombosis (DVT). DVT is most common in your arms and legs, although it can occur elsewhere. DVT affects approximately 900,000 Americans annually, reports Harvard Medical School. “This type of clot can cause pain, swelling, and redness in the affected limb,” explains the university. “But the real threat happens if the clot breaks off and travels to the lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism.”
A pulmonary embolism is when you have a blood clot in your lungs, and this condition can be potentially fatal.
2. Heart Blood Clot
When you have a blood clot in your heart, it can cause a heart attack. According to the American Heart Association, symptoms of a blood clot in the heart include:
- Feeling tightness in your chest
- Chest pain
- Pain, aches or discomfort in your upper body
3. Brain Blood Clot
“Clots inside the body can also be quite mobile, traveling through the bloodstream from place to place,” explains Harvard. “For example, a clot formed…in the heart can end up in the brain. Such silent migrations can have deadly consequences.”
A brain clot cuts off circulation to your brain, causing a stroke. A stroke from a blood clot, also known as an ischemic stroke, makes up 87% of all strokes in America.
Symptoms of a stroke can include blurred vision, a hard time talking, dizziness, and painful headaches.
4. Lung Blood Clot
When your lungs have a blood clot, the pulmonary embolism symptoms include:
- Coughing up blood
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest pain
- A faster heart rate
If your lungs don’t get enough blood flow, or if that blood flow is cut off completely, it can prove fatal.
Risk Factors for Blood Clots
There are a wide range of risk factors, some of which are fixed (e.g., your genetic predisposition towards blood clotting) and some which you can control and change (e.g., your physical activity levels).
First, let’s talk about the risks that you don’t have much control over:
- Genetic blood conditions
- Family history, especially if it’s an immediate family member
- Age: The CDC reports a significant jump in blood clots in those over age 40
Next are lifestyle and diet risk factors that you have more influence over:
- Immobility: If you do a lot of sitting or lying down, those extended periods of inactivity increase the risks of your blood not circulating and clotting.
- Unhealthy weight gain and obesity
Finally, medical treatments themselves can often be a risk factor.
For instance, undergoing surgery increases your risks of blood clots (your blood naturally coagulates as part of the healing process in response to surgery).
Researchers also warn that medications can also induce blood clots. Common over-the-counter painkillers have been linked to an increase in the risk of deadly deep-vein thrombosis. Several COVID-19 vaccines are being investigated for increasing the risk of deadly blood clots.
Your Blood Clots Guide to Reducing Clotting Risks
If you want to avoid getting blood clots, take steps today to minimize your risks.
Start by knowing the common symptoms of a blood clot, stroke, pulmonary embolism and DVT. Be alert to how your body feels, and call a doctor immediately if you notice any worrying symptoms. When a blood clot has formed and begun migrating to critical organs or limbs, time is of the essence.
Also be aware of the blood clot risks of any vaccines, medications, or medical interventions you’re using. Talk to your doctor about these concerns and what you should know.
Next, modify your lifestyle where appropriate. If you’re carrying a few extra pounds of body weight, consider losing weight. Likewise, quit smoking if you’re a smoker.
While you’re at it, take a quick look at your daily movement patterns. Many of us work office jobs that have us sitting for hours on end. Find ways to add more standing, walking and moving in your day so you’re never sedentary for long periods of time. This keeps the blood circulating and not pooling in your legs and feet where it’s more likely to begin to clot.
Finally, invest in your cardiovascular health:
- Exercise regularly
- Stay hydrated
- Eat a diet that emphasizes fiber, protein and minimal amounts of sugar
- Get adequate sleep
While you might not be able to see blood clots, the silent risk is always present. Take proactive measures today to avoid blood clots.
Learn More About Heart and Cardiovascular Health: