Blood clots do have a purpose. When you cut yourself, your blood cells are supposed to clump together, stopping your blood from gushing out. But sometimes, clots form in places they shouldn't and if they occur where blood needs to keep flowing, it can cause problems. Clots that block blood to your brain cause strokes, and ones that stop your heart's blood flow cause heart attacks. A clot that forms in your leg causes deep vein thrombosis (DVT), which can travel to your lungs. Known as a pulmonary embolism (PE), it can be very serious, even fatal.
Dangerous blood clots are common. Statistics show that 100,000 people die from DVT and PE every year in the U.S. That's more than breast cancer and motor vehicle collisions combined. Although anyone can get a blood clot in the wrong place, there are some people who are especially vulnerable - particularly those who fall into one or more of the categories below:
1. People who are overweight
People who are obese are at a higher risk of blood clots that form in a vein and travel through your blood (VTE). How far off you are from a healthy weight can make a difference in your chances of developing a clot too. For instance, someone who is a little overweight has a little bit of an added risk, but the risk becomes higher as you become severely obese. In addition, the more weight you carry on your frame, the harder it is to get around and sitting still for long periods of time puts you in the blood clot danger zone.
Smoking harms your health for a host of reasons and one of those is a raised risk of blood clots. Most people think that smoking just affects the lungs, but it actually affects your blood vessels too. Smoking damages the lining of your blood vessels, making blood more likely to stick together. Smoking is also a cause of heart disease and peripheral artery disease and is one of the biggest drivers behind heart attack and stroke as well as an increased risk of VTEs.
3. Pregnant women
Having a baby can complicate your clotting process. One reason for this is the added hormones - particularly estrogen - that float around in your bloodstream. In addition, as the baby gets larger and larger it can actually push on the blood vessels in the abdomen and the pelvis and block the flow directly causing clots.
4. Estrogen takers
Being on a birth control pill can increase your chances of developing a blood clot. Symptoms include a swollen leg, shortness of breath or chest pain, and most tend to ignore the signs. But women who are taking oral contraceptives, or are on hormone replacement therapy should check for clots.
5. People with infections or inflammatory diseases
Are you dealing with a serious illness or infection? If yes you should be alert to the symptoms of abnormal clots. Some types of cancer, such as brain, ovary, pancreas, colon, stomach, lung and kidney can put people at risk of DVT or PET. The clots may show up before cancer, and this means they might turn out to be a warning sign. Other conditions make you more likely to get clots, such as diabetes, HIV, or inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn's or colitis. If you get injured, your body may clot in internal spots where it shouldn't.
6. People who are still for long periods
There are all sorts of reasons you might not move for multiple hours. Hospital stays are a common reason. In fact, about half of DVTs and PEs occur in patients who are currently in the hospital or who have recently been in the hospital. Most of these patients have been lying in a hospital bed for days or even weeks after their bodies have gone through some sort of trauma like surgery or sickness. At this time in your life, your risk goes up dramatically. Sitting in a car, bus or on a plane for four hours or more is another situation that can increase your risk of a clot, especially if you're not drinking enough water.
7. Descendants of people with blood clotting problems
Know anyone in your family who has dealt with abnormal blood clots? The first step is to learn more about these experiences. If an injury or illness is to blame, the cause could be genetic. Certain inherited disorders can make your blood thicker, causing it to clot. Take a few tests and find out if you've inherited one of them.
8. People who’ve had blood clots before
Do you have a history of clots? It's likely that you'll get them again. One-third of people who get a DVT/PE will have another in around 10 years. This is because the blood clots form around the valves of a vein, which can damage them. In some situations, this can also lead to multiple clots over time. More often than not, this can be more of a chronic disease, rather than an acute episode.