We often hear about the dangers of blood clots but these plugs is the body’s way of sustaining life. Normally a bloo clot forms when there is break in a blood vessel. The clot prevents excessive loss of blood through this break by temporarily blocking the damaged area. Over time the blood vessel is repaired and the clot removed. However, there are instances when these blood clots can be risky and even deadly.
When are blood clots dangerous?
Despite being life-saving plugs, blood clots can be dangerous when it forms inside a blood vessel. The clot can block blood flow through the vessel and even cut off blood supply entirely in some cases. However, it is not only blood clots that form at the site that can be a problem. Sometimes the blood clot can break away from where it forms and travel through the bloodstream to then become lodged in smaller blood vessels, where it causes a blockage.
Blood clots are formed from various components in the bloodstream. However, these components are normally in an inactive state. It is activated when thee is some break in a blood vesel but can also be prematurely activated even without any damage to the tissue of the blood vessel. When the latter occurs the blood clot can then form inside the blood vessel where it may then pose a problem.
A blood clot is known as a thrombus but when it breaks away to travel through the bloodstream then it is referred to as an embolus. Two common and dangerous consequences of a thrombus or embolus is a heart attack or stroke. In a heart attack, the coronary artery that supplies blood to the heart muscle becomes blocked. With an ischemic stroke, a blood clot may block an artery supplying blood to the brain.
Therefore blood clots, while being a life saving mechanism of the body, can also cause serious and even deadly when it forms within blood vessels that are intact.
How To Spot A Blood Clot
A blood clot is not always easy to spot unless it blocks blood flow to and from a part of the body. These signs and symptoms can vary depending on where the blood clot is located and the degree to which blood flow is obstructed. It can be deadly when a blood clot blocks a blood vessel to a vital organ like the heart, lungs or brain. However, the consequences are less serious in non-vital parts of the body, like the leg.
It is important to note that diagnostic investigations are usually necessary to confirm the presence of a blood clot. Relying on the following signs and symptoms on its own can be misleading as many other conditions that do not involve a blood clot can cause similar symptoms.
A heart attack, stroke and pulmonary embolism (PE) are some of the serious conditions that may arise due to a blood clot. Peripheral arterial disease and deep vein thrombosis (DVT) are usually less serious although DVT can complicate to a pulmonary embolism (PE) in some instances.
Read more on DVT and PE.
Pain, Tingling or Numbness
Pain is one of the signs of a blood clot. The disruption in blood supply can result in tissue injury due to insufficient oxygen (ischemia). It may even result in tissue death. This causes pain in and around the organ, as may be seen with the central chest pain in a heart attack.
Sometimes there may be other symptoms like tingling when there is a blockage but it is not a complete obstruction. Numbness is at the other end of the spectrum. There may be a reduction in sensitivity and even a total loss of sensation in the affected part of the body.
Weakness or Loss of Function
Every part of the body requires an uncompromised blood supply to function properly. However, when there is a blood clot that obstructs blood flow then there may be some degree of impaired function. With muscles this may be seen as muscle weakness. However, with other parts of the body the symptoms can vary.
For example, if the brain is affected by a blood clot then symptoms like dizziness, confusion, impaired senses and poor coordination may occur since these are functions of the brain. Similarly when the heart is affected by a clot then it cannot pump blood and thereby circulate oxygen throughout the body
Pale and Blue Discoloration
Another sign of a blood clot is paleness of the skin. This indicates that blood flow and the distribution of oxygen is compromised. The reddish hue of blood is partly responsible for skin color but if there reduced blood flow this will result in an alteration in skin color.
When oxygen levels drop very low then the color may change from a pale to white hue to a bluish color (cyanosis). This can occur throughout the body when the heart is compromised by a blood clot. However, a blood clot does not cause a visible paleness or blue discoloration when a blood clot affects other internal organs.
Swollen Parts of the Body
The veins carry blood and tissue fluid away from an area and route it back to the heart and lungs. However, when a blood clot blocks a vein then the affected area may swell. This is usually not evident in deeper organs, the head or torso. Swelling due to a blood clot is more likely to be seen when veins in the arms or legs are obstructed. Inflammation of tissue which could occur with a blood clot may also cause swelling to some degree.
Coldness of the Limbs
Blood is responsible for circulating heat from deep in the body to the surface. When arterial blood is blocked due to a blood clot then the affected area may be cold to the touch compared to the rest of the body. This is seen in the limbs particularly as may occur with peripheral arterial disease. It can also occur when a blood clot affects the heart as circulation throughout the body may be compromised by the weakened heart.