When you think of blood clots, you probably think of cuts and scrapes you got when you were a kid that bled, and eventually scabbed over before you picked them off. Blood clots are critical in that they impede the flow of blood, therefore prevent us from bleeding out. They can also do more harm than good, when they cause blockages where we do not need them, like inside the blood vessels and circulatory system. When that happens, they can lead to heart attacks, strokes, or other serious complications that can prove life-threatening.
When blood clots interfere with blood flow they can be problematic. Problematic blood clots can occur in multiple locations, each of which requires emergency medical treatment. Heart attacks may occur when clots block blood flow to the heart, while a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) refers to clots in the legs. These may fragment and travel to the lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism, which can prove life-threatening. The same is true of strokes, which is when clots block blood flow to the brain. A lack of blood means a lack of oxygen, and therefore tissue death.
Considering how dangerous blood clots can be, it’s surprising we don’t hear about them more often. However, around 100,000 Americans die from conditions like DVT or pulmonary embolisms in any given year. If that doesn’t seem like a substantial amount, consider the fact that this number is higher than the victims of both breast cancer, as well as motor vehicle accidents—combined. With that kind of death toll, shouldn’t we be paying more attention to blood clots? Shouldn’t we be better informed about them, and taking steps to prevent and treat them when we can? We’d save lives that way.
In the interest of protecting health, it makes sense to consider the variables that may influence the odds of developing blood clots. As with many other ailments, the odds of having a problematic clot vary depending on other factors. While we cannot always alter these factors, it is still wise to be aware of them, so that we can better monitor our health and reduce the risk of tragedy. Here are some factors that may increase your risk of developing a blood clot. If these any of these apply to you, consider making lifestyle changes to improve your overall health.
Being overweight can increase the chances of having blood clots form. This is a risk that only increases more and more, depending on how much body weight one carries around. This comes as a result of the excess cholesterol that builds up within the blood vessels, which may stick together, causing the vessels to get thinner and thinner. Obesity may also compound with other factors that increase the risk of blood clots. Even setting blood clots aside, there are other harmful health conditions that are more likely to arise as a result of being overweight, like diabetes and heart disease.
In order to combat obesity, a healthy diet and regular exercise are important. A healthy diet will help one to moderate not only how many calories make it into the diet, but also the quality of those calories. Instead of getting too many from fats and sugars, eat more fruits and vegetables in order to secure vitamins and minerals rather than empty calories. This means less fat in, and more of the nutrients your body needs to build a better you. By the same token, regular exercise is just as important. Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise daily.
A sedentary lifestyle also contributes to blood clots in inappropriate places. When one considers that obesity is generally associated with a less active lifestyle, it becomes clear how these two elements might compound to drastically increase the odds of a problematic clot. However, obesity is not the only factor when it comes to being sedentary; unfortunately, those who are injured and require large amounts of bed rest are at an increased risk for such clots as well. Even setting injury aside, simply staying in one place while working may also contribute, which is problematic, considering the number of office jobs.
Because of the increased risk of DVT and other blood clots from a sedentary lifestyle, regular exercise becomes even more important. If you work in the sort of job that involves a lot of sitting, take opportunities to at least stand and stretch, or go for short walks. Definitely be active during breaks and at lunchtime. This activity will spur blood flow, keeping it from getting too sluggish, and therefore decreasing the risk of clotting. If you absolutely can’t get more exercise into your workday, that’s all the more of a reason to be more active once outside of the office.
There are a lot of health risks associated with smoking, and blood clots are another to add to the list. This is because of the effect that smoking has on the circulatory system. The chemicals in cigarette smoke can cause damage to the arteries, which leads them to harden. Cigarette smoke can also generate plaque. This can lead to a whole host of heart-related conditions, like high blood pressure, but also including blood clots, which increases the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and pulmonary embolisms. For smokers, there is a lot more at stake than just one’s respiratory health.
The solution for this matter is obvious. Quitting smoking can improve your health in so many ways, some of which have nothing at all to do with blood clots. Those who quit smoking can expect to see decreases in their blood pressure, improved lung capacity, better olfactory senses, hair, skin, and teeth improvements. If you’re a regular smoker, quitting can seem like a daunting task. In such cases, having a regular support group, or even just a goal to be attained can help tremendously. Furthermore, you don’t need to quit cold turkey. Quitting smoking can be much easier in stages.
While hospital stays from various injuries can lead to blood clots, even illnesses that don’t leave you bedridden can result in an increased risk. For example, there are certain types of cancer that fall into this category. Other illnesses include inflammatory bowel diseases, HIV, or even diabetes. In addition to their other symptoms, these diseases may cause blood clotting, so it may be wise to get tested for clots for those who have such maladies. Serious physical injuries may also result in blood clots in unusual spots; do not be afraid to bring such things up with a medical professional.
Generally, once a serious illness comes into play, regular contact with a doctor is advised. This can make keeping an eye on potential blood clots relatively easy. Blood tests can help to determine the presence of clots, and allow for a solution before any serious harm has occurred. Of course, if you have recently been injured or are suffering from a long-term illness, keeping track of any changes in your body, like pain, redness, or swelling, isn’t just good for your illness, but could alert you to the presence of a dangerous clot.
If there is a history in your family of blood clots, it stands to reason that you will have an increased risk of developing them yourself. Genetics are powerful, and unlike a number of other factors, we simply do not have any means to change what we inherit. Generally, blood clots occur in situations where the blood is thicker. With that knowledge in mind, if there is a family history of blood clots in your family, it is worth the time to discover if a disorder is the culprit behind thicker blood, and therefore an increased likelihood of clotting.
While we cannot do much about our genetics, one thing we can do is know the risks. Being aware of any clot experiences in our family, particularly those that did not come from a particular injury or one of the aforementioned illnesses, can at least paint a more clear picture of the potential risks. If it is determined that one has a blood disorder or some other factor that makes clots more likely, it is even more important to receive regular checkups and make the proper lifestyle choices mentioned in the other sections in order to decrease the risk of a serious clot.
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This one should come as a no-brainer, but unfortunately, if you have a personal history of blood clots, then it’s very possible that you will have them again. This is especially the case if the clots do not result from a particular injury, as many of the other risks for blood clots (Weight, serious illnesses, genetics) are lifelong, or at least chronic conditions. However, it’s not just the presence of risk factors that can lead to recurrent clots. The clots themselves can cause serious damage the veins, which then leads to situations where blood clots are more likely to form.
For those who have already experienced a blood clot, unfortunately, there is about a 33 percent chance that another blood clot will occur within 10 years. Even so, all hope is not lost. Avoiding other factors that contribute to blood clots, as well as receiving regular checkups, can help you to manage your health in such a way that decreases the chance of recurrent blood clots. All in all, this reinforces the importance of a healthy lifestyle, which may help to keep the incident of a blood clot as a one-time thing, rather than something of a chronic illness.