A Blood Clot Blocking Flow Through The Liver Might Cause Are You at Risk For Blood Clots?

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Are You at Risk For Blood Clots?

Summer is here again and many of my patients are traveling on vacation or visiting friends and relatives across the country. However, before they go, I’d like to give them some pre-travel advice about a potentially serious health condition that can occur after long periods of sitting in cars, trains and planes… blood clots.

Up to 600,000 Americans develop blood clots each year, and 1 in 3 people develop serious medical complications from them. I’d like to share with you the same advice I give my patients about the symptoms and risk factors for developing blood clots and how you can prevent them.

What are blood clots?

They are accumulations of debris or fat, clotted blood or even surgical material inside the veins. They can start in the legs and travel within the venous system to the brain, heart or lungs and cause a heart attack, stroke or pulmonary embolism.

What are the symptoms of a blood clot?

Symptoms of clots vary, depending on their origin, but almost always include sudden and/or severe pain at the site. All require immediate medical attention. Here is a list of common types of clots and their symptoms:

Legs: Blood clots in the legs can often be mistaken for a strained muscle, as they can feel like a “Charlie Horse” type cramp. Look for leg swelling, warmth to the touch, redness or bluish discoloration, pain.

Lungs: Sudden onset of shortness of breath. A stabbing, sharp chest pain that worsens with deep breaths, a rapid heart rate, and/or an unexplained cough that may contain blood.

Heart: A clot that has traveled to the heart will cause symptoms of a heart attack, severe chest pain like pressure, and shortness of breath.

Brain: A clot that has traveled to the brain is called an ischemic stroke, which is a blockage of blood flow. Its symptoms may include severe/sudden headache, confusion, blurred vision, dizziness, weakness on one side of the body, loss of balance or coordination/inability to walk, inability to speak or understand language.

Kidneys: They are not as common as blood clots in the legs or lungs, but kidney clots do occur. Symptoms include sharp pain in the lower back, usually on one side, inability to urinate, high blood pressure, fluid retention, swollen ankles and shortness of breath.

What are the risk factors for blood clots?

Anyone can get a clot at any time, but in general the risks are greatest with the following:

•Recent major surgery in the abdomen or pelvis

• Prolonged lying in bed in a hospital, home for the elderly for more than 3 days

• Knee and hip joint prosthesis

•Major physical injuries such as a car accident or a serious fall

•Pregnancy or recent birth

Other moderate but still very important risks include:

•Age – over 65 years old

•Smoking

• Sitting for a long time while traveling in a car, plane, train, bus

• Dehydration – inadequate water intake can cause blood clotting

• On chemotherapy

• Contraceptive pills or hormone replacement therapy

• Genetic predisposition

• Obesity/sedentary lifestyle

What can I do to prevent blood clots?

Avoiding a blood clot involves reducing risk factors where possible. In general, the following guidelines can help you prevent blood clots:

• Stop smoking. Period.

• If you are traveling for a long time, take an “exercise” break where you stand up and walk for a few minutes every 2 hours of travel. This is easier to do in a car or bus, not so easy in a plane or train. However, you may get up from your seat from time to time and walk to the restroom and/or club car. Change your position in the seat, doing leg raises or ankle rotation exercises in the seat will also help.

• If you are overweight and sedentary, make some healthy changes in your diet and get up and get at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise a day. You can do this by walking, cycling, Wii FIT in the living room, anything that gets you up and moving.

•Stay hydrated! Drinking the correct amount of water each day is one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself for several reasons. Drink half your body weight in water every day, and if you consume caffeine, a little more. Your blood needs water to stay at an optimal density that is neither so thick that it forms clots nor so thin that it flows too freely and causes profuse bleeding if you cut yourself.

• Find out your clotting time. A simple blood test at your doctor’s office can reveal whether you have a blood clotting problem. You may need to make dietary changes (less foods that contain vitamin K, taking supplements that don’t) to prevent clots from forming.

•Vitamin E – low dose, 200 mg per day, can prevent the formation of blood clots.

•Hormones – if you are taking birth control pills and are over 35, consider another form of contraception. Similarly, if you are menopausal and on HRT, talk to your doctor about your risk of blood clots. Switch to bioidentical, doctor-prescribed hormones that have a much lower risk of serious side effects than animal or synthetic hormones.

Blood clots can be scary. Just knowing the symptoms of a blood clot can buy time to seek medical help quickly. While you may not be able to avoid certain high-risk factors such as surgery and/or extended hospital stays that may unexpectedly pop up in your life, just trying to live a healthy lifestyle the rest of the time will go a long way in reducing your risk. Happy, fun and safe summer travels!

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