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What You Need to Know About Blood Clots

From risk factors to prevention tips, a vascular medicine specialist weighs in with how to avoid the potentially life-threatening condition.

Anyone can get a blood clot. In fact, recent data suggests that there are over 900,000 cases of blood clots, also known as venous thromboembolism (VTE), per year. Blood clots can be deadly, on average leading to 274 deaths per day. But VTE is preventable—which is why it’s important to know your family history, be aware of your personal risk factors and take the right steps to protect your health.

Blood Clot Basics

To understand your risk of blood clots, it’s important to first understand the basics of the condition.

There are two main types of VTE:

  1. Deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a blood clot located in a deep vein, usually in the leg or arm
  2. Pulmonary embolism (PE), a blood clot that has traveled from the vein to the lungs

About 60% of blood clots occur in the legs for a number of reasons. “People can experience a blood clot in their leg from staying seated or lying down for long periods of time,” says vascular medicine specialist Dr. Geno Merli. “Those who have long stays in the hospital, long international flights or are seated at a desk during work with minimal breaks may be at risk for developing a clot.”

Symptoms of a blood clot in the leg include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Increased warmth in the affected leg
  • Worsening symptoms when bearing weight on the affected leg

Though anyone can get a blood clot, certain groups of people are more at risk than others. You may have a greater risk of VTE if you:

  • Have a family history of blood clots
  • Have had a previous blood clot
  • Have a high Body Mass Index (BMI)
  • Are age 40 or older
  • Take estrogen-containing medications, such as birth control
  • Have a history of cancer or are being actively treated for cancer

Blood Clot Prevention

If you’re at high risk for developing VTE, you should actively practice prevention methods to stay healthy and clot-free. “The key aspect to preventing clots is mobility,” says Dr. Merli. “If you’re sitting for long periods of time, it increases your chance of stasis—the pooling of blood in your legs that can cause clots. Make sure you’re taking the time to get up and walk during long periods of sitting—whether that’s in the aisle of a plane or just around your home office.”

For those taking long flights, Dr. Merli also suggests staying hydrated, wearing loose-fitting clothing and, in some cases, talking to your doctor about taking a blood thinner before takeoff. Those working at a desk, either in an office or at home, should schedule frequent breaks to get up, walk around and stretch their legs.

If you do experience symptoms of a blood clot, seek medical attention immediately. “A healthcare provider can identify a blood clot using ultrasound and get you treated as soon as possible,” says Dr. Merli. “Don’t wait for your symptoms to get worse to seek treatment.”

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