Just like a traffic jam on the highway, blood clots impede normal circulation in your body and can be dangerous. Here are some blood clot basics and information on steps you can take to help avoid the problem.
Signs of a serious blood clot
Thrombosis is a medical term for blood clot. Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) occurs in one of the large veins, usually in your legs. DVT can cause pain and swelling in the area where blood clots form. The area might also be reddened and feel warm to the touch.
The most common complication from DVT is pulmonary embolism (blockage), which occurs when a clot or part of a clot breaks off and lodges in the lungs. Symptoms of pulmonary embolism include shortness of breath and sudden pain in the chest that gets worse when you breathe deeply.
Risk factors and ways to avoid DVT
Anybody can get DVT, but surgery or injury increases your risk, as does increasing age and weight gain. Some people have clotting disorders that increase their risk for DVT.
Ways to avoid DVT include:
- Quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly.
- If you are hospitalized, ask your healthcare providers about available DVT prevention, such as mechanical devices to aid circulation.
- If you are on a long flight, or if you sit for hours, wear compression stockings and get up and move around or perform stretching exercises.
“As many as 60 percent of all people who suffer an episode of deep vein thrombosis will also develop post-thrombotic syndrome,” says vascular medicine specialist Natalie Evans, MD.
This syndrome can cause long-term pain, swelling and even ulcers.
Blood thinners and what not to eat
Physicians prescribe blood thinners to some DVT patients to prevent future clotting. Warfarin or Coumadin is a type of blood thinner that has been used for decades, but frequent blood tests are needed to monitor dosage.
Dr. Evans adds, “Patients should talk with their doctor or pharmacist…to learn about potential interactions with foods and drugs.”
The Vitamin K found in greens and other foods can interfere with Coumadin’s effects. There’s a long list of foods that you should eat only in moderation while you are on the drug.
Cranberries and cranberry products like cranberry juice can intensify Coumadin’s effect, so it’s best to avoid them while you are on the drug.
Pros and cons of new medications
Newer blood-thinner medications, including rivaroxaban (Xarelto), apixaban (Eliquis) and dabigatran (Pradaxa), can be used for DVT prevention and do not require frequent blood tests, making them more convenient.
These new-generation blood thinners also may have fewer negative interactions with foods and other drugs. However, they are also more expensive than warfarin, and a specific antidote, in cases of bleeding, is not available. Patients should talk to their physician about the risks and benefits of taking these medications.
Beware of high impact sports
If you’re taking blood thinners, participating in high-impact sports can lead to potentially dangerous bleeding. Dr. Evans says that during exercise, “people who’ve had DVT and PE in the past need to be aware of the symptoms of recurrent clots, that is, leg pain and swelling, shortness of breath, chest pain that’s worse with deep breathing.”
While you are on blood thinners, there’s always a danger from cuts or bruising, even in going about your everyday activities like shaving or gardening.
Keep a medical card in your wallet that says you are on blood thinners, and never take any prescription or non-prescription medications without talking with your doctor first.