What Causes Blood Clots?

People often take for granted how incredible their bodies are. Over thousands of years of evolution, humans have developed complex organs, like the brain and eyes, that scientists still don’t fully understand.

The circulatory system, which stretches roughly 60,000 miles within the average adult, is one of these wonders of the human body. While fascinating, the extent and intricacy of the circulatory system’s function can make it difficult for the average person to understand. But considering the prevalence of conditions such as blood clots, it’s important to at least know the basics.

What is the Circulatory System?

Think of a circuit or a network that consists of organs and blood vessels that work together to transport oxygen, nutrients and hormones to cells throughout the body. Essentially, arteries carry these necessities away from the heart while veins carry the depleted blood back to the heart to restart the cycle. The circulatory system also works to remove carbon dioxide from the blood.

What if Something Goes Wrong?

As with every ongoing process within the body, things can go wrong with the circulatory system. A blood clot, also called a thrombus, can occur when platelets cluster with red blood cells to form a thick, mesh-like plug. Blood is meant to flow continuously and only stops to clot or thicken in the case of a wound. However, if a blood clot forms when it isn't necessary, it can cause a stroke, heart attack or pulmonary embolism (PE).

According to the American Thoracic Society, over 1 million people suffer from pulmonary embolism every year in the United States. One hundred thousand to 200,000 of these cases are fatal. Blood clots can be caused by the following:

■ Prolonged or Continuous Sitting/Bed Rest– Blood clots can form when the body doesn’t get enough activity.

■ Serious injuries– In the case of serious injuries, the impact can force the blood flow to stop in the affected area and can lead to the formation of blood clots.

■ Smoking– Smoking commonly causes damage to the lining of blood vessels. This makes platelets stick together, forming blood clots.

Symptoms of a Pulmonary Embolism

Many symptoms of PE are easily recognizable. Signs and symptom include:

● Shortness of Breath- This is the most commonly experienced PE symptom. It starts at the beginning and worsens as the blood clot grows.

● Coughing– While coughing can indicate a number of ailments, coughing up blood with phlegm can indicate a PE.

● Blue Nails and Lips– Because blood clots can slow or stop circulation, they often make extremities like the lips and nails turn blue.

Take Precautions or Try Treatments

Fortunately, lifestyle changes can reduce the risk of developing a PE. Those who exercise regularly are less likely to experience a blot clot. Wearing compression socks can also help maintain healthy blood flow. Regardless, it’s important to stay in tune with the body and always watch for signs and symptoms of ailments. Anyone experiencing multiple PE symptoms should contact their doctor immediately.

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