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Blood Clots, Deep Vein Thrombosis, Arterial Thrombosis, Say What?

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Why are we advised not to sit for prolonged periods of time, especially on long flights? To prevent blood clots !

Being immobilized for long periods of time slows down the blood flow. This may cause accumulation of blood cells in a certain part of a vein. In addition, we avoid drinking on the plane because that would mean getting up, squeezing by the other passenger and having everyone look at us before we dash to the bathroom. Less water means possible dehydration causing the blood to become thick. And suddenly, ouch! We experience a leg cramp. Is it just a muscle spasm due to sitting in the tight sardine-like seat or could we have formed a blood clot in our vein?

Normally, blood clots in response to injury preventing us from bleeding to death. However, sometimes blood clots will form without injury ( watch here ). They may either dissolve or cause a medical problem/emergency. If they get lodged in a vein or artery, they block the flow of blood to different organs like heart, brain or lungs resulting in a heart attack , stroke , or pulmonary embolism .

Thrombosis means the formation or presence of a blood clot within a blood vessel during life. This can occur either in a vein or artery (arterial-).

Causes of blood clots:
1. After surgery
2. Response to traumatic injury, auto accidents
3. Gradual buildup of plaque within an artery
4. Cancer
5. Autoimmune disorder
6. Infection
7. Bleeding disorders
8. History of varicose veins
9. Atrial fibrillation
10. Inflammatory bowel disease

Risk Factors:
1. Smoking
2. Elevated levels of homocysteine
3. Obesity
4. Prolonged lack of exercise
5. Use of contraceptive pill/patch
6. Advanced age
7. Mechanical heart valve
8. Sitting or laying in one position for prolonged period of time
9. Genetic factors

Signs and symptoms:
1. Sharp chest pain
2. Fast heart rate
3. Shortness of breath
4. Blood-tinged coughing
5. Swelling and tenderness in arm or leg
6. Vision disturbances
7. Weakness
8. Seizure
9. Severe abdominal pain

These signs and or symptoms should prompt you to seek medical help. A medical history and a physical exam will be performed by the doctor. If a clot is suspected, a Doppler ultrasound , CAT scan , or MRI can be done. Venograms / angiograms are rarely needed.

Treatment may depend on the location of the blood clot: artery or vein. Both require medications such as enoxaparin (Lovenox) , warfarin (Coumadin) , alteplase (Activase, TPA) , tenecteplase (TNKase) or others. Arterial blood clots are treated more aggressively and may also require cardiac catheterization .

Prevention consists of reducing the risk factors above. Taking these steps may minimize the plaque buildup and “hardening” of the arteries over time. Managing diabetes, cholesterol and blood pressure should be an understood fact. Don’t be immobile. Get out of the car or stand up and stretch in a plane or train routinely. Drink plenty of water. Know what medications you are taking. Find out if you can benefit from better nutrition. Consider medications and/or herbs. All these concerns should be taken up with your doctor.

“In August of 2002 when I was 37 years old I was struck with blood clots. It all started one Monday morning after I had done some extensive car traveling over the weekend.”

Journalist Mark Pownall from north London developed deep vein thrombosis (DVT) on a long-haul flight from New Orleans to London

Read or share personal stories and experiences…

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I have one of the genetic factors (Factor V Leiden) along with 3 first degree relatives that have clotted, which is now considered a risk factor (family history). My grandmother developed a superifical clot on here leg that turned to gangrene and had to be amputated. My mother developed a clot in her arm after an IV during a serious illness. She described it feeling like her shoulder was out of it's socket. She went on to develop a clot in her neck a year later. My aunt developed a clot from her groin to her ankle after chemo for uterine cancer.

I am doing everything preventative that I can. I make sure I stay hydrated and I am active. I stop often during trip to get out and walk and when stopping isn't an option, I do exercises that stretch my legs and rotate my ankles. I have shared the information about this gentic condition with my doctors and have had to remind them of it when they have suggested things like HRT. Also, knowing the signs of a clot is a big plus. I really wish GYNs would ask about a family history of blood clots before they prescribe BCPs. It could help prevent a lifetime of suffering.

A clot is very serious and can cause death. It can also cause a many other health issues. Insurance companies do not like people who have clotted, since they consider them high risk patients.


October 23, 2009 - 7:54pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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