How to Recognize Risks and Symptoms of Blood Clots

By Dr. David Severance, Chief Medical Officer, UnitedHealthcare of Colorado ~

On average, 274 people die each day from blood clots – that’s one person every six minutes. Yet, what may be even more surprising is that fewer than one in four people realize they have the signs and symptoms of a blood clot.

What is a blood clot?
Your body is made up of a tunnel of arteries and veins, which carries blood from the heart to the rest of your body. A blood clot occurs when a specific type of blood cell, known as platelets, forms a clump in a blood vessel, acting like a plug to slow or even stop bleeding after a cut or injury. But blood clots can also develop when they aren’t needed, which may lead to serious health problems, such as intense pain, stroke and heart attack.

Who is most at risk?
Although blood clots can affect anyone — from infants and young children to senior citizens — some people may be more at risk than others including:

  • Women using birth control methods or hormone therapy containing estrogen 
  • Women who are pregnant, including up to six weeks after childbirth. In fact, blood clots are the No. 1& killer among new mothers.
  • People with a family history of blood clots
  • Individuals who are overweight
  • Smokers
  • Those 55 or older
  • Individuals suffering from long-term chronic conditions, such as diabetes, heart problems and lung disease

When are you most at risk?

  • During or after a hospitalization for illness or surgery
  • During cancer treatment
  • Traveling or remaining confined for too long
  • After a physical injury and/or dehydration

How do I know?
Blood clots can occur all throughout the body, but the most common places are in the legs, arms and lungs.

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a type of blood clot in the leg or arm. Symptoms of DVT include:

  • Swelling
  • Pain or tenderness that feels like a cramp or “Charley horse,” not caused by an injury
  • Reddish or bluish skin discoloration
  • Skin that is warm to the touch

A pulmonary embolism (PE) is a type of blood clot that takes place in the lungs. Symptoms of PE include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Sudden shortness of breath
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Sharp pain in the chest that may feel worse with deep breaths
  • Fainting or passing out

Prevention is the key to avoiding blood clots, and it includes knowing your risks, listening to your body for any signs and symptoms, plus getting up and moving if you’ve been sitting for hours. Talk with your doctor to understand the risks before any hospitalization.

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