8 Signs of a Blood Clot You Should Never Ignore
Most of the time, blood clots are a good thing. When you get injured, you need your blood to solidify and clump together at the site to help stop the bleeding. But sometimes clots crop up when they’re not needed, and that can spell trouble—especially if they form in the deep veins near your muscles.
“When blood clots form in this deeper system, they can be painful and very dangerous,” says Luis Navarro, M.D., founder of the Vein Treatment Center in New York City. This kind of clot is called a deep vein thrombosis, or DVT. They’re like roadblocks on your blood highway, causing traffic jams in your circulation and prevent the blood flow that keeps your system up and running.
Things can get even more serious if a DVT breaks away from its original spot and travels to your lungs. Then it becomes a pulmonary embolism, a clot that prevents these vital organs from getting the oxygen and blood they need. That can damage your lungs and other organs and may even be fatal.
Some people are more prone to a DVT than others, so it’s worth staying on top of any risk factors. What’s more, “it’s important to recognize symptoms of a blood clot because they can often be minimal or overlooked,” and getting prompt treatment is key, says Dr. Navarro. Here are the warning signs of a blood clot to watch for, so you can act quickly if one strikes.
A swollen leg or arm is one of the most common signs of a DVT. “Blood clots can block the healthy flow of blood in the legs, and blood can pool behind the clot causing swelling,” says Dr. Navarro.
It’s normal to overlook leg swelling as a symptom of a DVT if you always get large or stiff legs when you fly or during periods of immobility. But be suspicious if your bloated limb comes on quickly, especially if it shows up with a side of pain.
Leg or arm pain.Usually, DVT pain comes as a combo with other symptoms like swelling or redness, but sometimes it can stand alone.
“Unfortunately, pain from a blood clot can easily be mistaken for a muscle cramp or strain, which is why the issue often goes undiagnosed and is specifically dangerous,” says Dr. Navarro.
DVT pain tends to strike when you’re walking or when you flex your foot upward. If you have a charley horse you can’t seem to shake—especially if the skin near it is warm or discolored—have your doctor take a look.
Redness on your skin
While it’s true that a bruise is a type of blood clot, it’s not the kind you have to worry about. You can’t see a DVT. You might see some bruise-like discoloration, but you’re more likely to see red. A DVT causes redness in the affected limb and makes your arm or leg feel warm to the touch.
A pain in your chest may make you think heart attack, but it could be a pulmonary embolism. “Both a PE and a heart attack share similar symptoms,” says Dr. Navarro. However, PE pain tends to be sharp and stabbing, and feels worst when you take a deep breath.
Heart attack pain often radiates from upper areas of your body like your shoulders, jaw, or neck. The biggest clue is in your breathing—PE pain gets steadily worse with every breath you take. Either way, you need help immediately, so call 911.
Shortness of breathA blood clot in your lung slows your oxygen flow, and that can leave you feeling winded. “You often won’t have the stamina or breath to make it up stairs. You feel lousy,” says George P. Teitelbaum, M.D., interventional neuroradiologist and director of the Stroke & Aneurysm Center at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif. Get help quickly, especially if this comes on suddenly.
Can’t stop hacking? If you’re also having shortness of breath, fast heart rate, or chest pain, it could be a PE. “The cough will be dry, but sometimes people can cough up mucus and/or blood,” says Dr. Navarro. When in doubt, phone your doc or go straight to the ER.
When oxygen is low, your heart rate goes high to try to make up for the shortage. Feeling a flutter in your chest and having trouble with deep breaths could be your body sending out an SOS that you’ve got a PE lurking in your lungs, Dr. Teitelbaum says.
“For a small blood clot, the heart rate rises in part due to chest pain, shortness of breath, and the related anxiety that these cause,” says Lewis Nelson, M.D., chair of the department of emergency medicine at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. There is also a release of chemicals from lung tissues that leads to a rise in heart rate.
If the clot is larger, it can cause a reduction in blood oxygen content “and even changes in blood flow that lead to a compensatory rise in heart rate,” Dr. Nelson says.
“The lightheadedness is due in part to the chemical released from the lungs, changes in oxygenation of the blood, and in the blood pressure and heart rate,” Dr. Nelson says. “The brain is sensitive to changes in oxygen and to changes in blood flow.”
While it’s not an overly common symptom of a blood clot, it happens enough. One study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that pulmonary embolisms were responsible for about 17% of hospitalizations for fainting in the 560 older people who were studied.
What to do if you think you have a blood clot.
“It depends on how sick you feel,” Dr. Teitelbaum says. If you’re having shortness of breath and no energy and this is unusual for you, call 911 immediately. “You need to go to the emergency room and be evaluated,” he says. But if you have leg tenderness or swelling and you’re not sure what’s going on, it’s okay to call your doctor about next steps.
Treatment usually includes blood-thinning medications, per the American Heart Association (AHA). Those can generally be broken down into anticoagulants, which are tablets or injectables that help prevent blood clots, and thrombolytic therapy, which involves taking medication to dissolve clots. These can be given through an arm vein or by inserting catheters into the clot in the vein or lung. In more severe cases, you may need surgery.
Just know that treatment doesn’t end once the blood clot is gone. “If you have a blood clot, you may need to continue to take anti-coagulants for a few months afterward,” Dr. Teitelbaum says.(www.prevention.com)
8 Signs of a Blood Clot You Should Never Ignore