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Fight blood clots—before they happen
Preventing blood clots

Don’t ignore leg pain
Don’t ignore leg pain

Some blood clots form in veins that are deep in the body, most commonly in the leg. This condition, known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT), can become fatal if a piece of the clot breaks off and travels to the lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism. Symptoms of DVT may include pain, tenderness, inflammation, swelling, redness, discoloration or a warm area in the leg. Unfortunately, only about half the people who develop DVT suffer symptoms.

DVT can be caused by hereditary factors, long periods of sitting (such as on an airplane), prolonged bed rest, surgery, pregnancy, childbirth, hormone therapy or excess weight. Talk to your healthcare provider if you’re at risk for DVT. He or she may prescribe blood thinners and compression stockings to aid circulation.

Blood clots defined
Blood clots defined

A blood clot that develops in a blood vessel or the heart is called a thrombus.

A clot that moves through the bloodstream and becomes stuck in a narrowed vessel is called an embolus.

Your heart and brain depend on an uninterrupted flow of blood and oxygen. But if your blood thickens, your arteries narrow or your heart beats irregularly, blood can clump together, form a clot and block blood flow.

Blood clots are potentially life threatening, but just how dangerous a clot is depends on where it forms, where it travels and whether it hampers blood flow. Most heart attacks and strokes are caused by clots in arteries that block blood supply to the heart or brain. Blood clots that occur in veins can be superficial, causing only minor inflammation and discomfort. If they occur in a deep, larger vein, however, they can lead to a serious condition called deep vein thrombosis (see “Don’t ignore leg pain”).

Preventing blood clots

Many factors contribute to blood clots. Having high cholesterol can lead to fatty deposits on your artery walls, which harden into plaque and restrict blood flow. When plaque breaks off or ruptures, a clot may form. Some people are at risk for clots because their blood is thicker, or more coaguable. Having diabetes, smoking and taking certain medications like hormones may increase blood’s coagulation. Some abnormal heart rhythms, such as atrial fibrillation, increase your risk for blood clots.

To keep your blood flowing properly, your heart, blood and blood vessels must stay healthy. Follow these steps to help keep your arteries and veins free and clear:

  • Quit smoking. Smoking causes blood to thicken.
  • Improve cholesterol. Lowering total and LDL (bad) cholesterol and raising HDL (good) cholesterol help reduce the arterial fatty deposits and plaque buildup that lead to clots.
  • Exercise. Physical activity helps strengthen the heart and lower LDL cholesterol.
  • Eat fish. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish, particularly fatty fish, decrease the growth of atherosclerotic plaque and lower the risk for abnormal heart rhythms.
  • Consider blood thinners. Talk to your healthcare provider about whether drugs like aspirin, warfarin and heparin are right for you.