Blood clots stop you from losing too much blood after an injury, stop germs from getting into a wound and allow the wound to heal. However, sometimes blood clots form in the blood stream when there hasn’t been an external injury. Clots in the blood stream can lead to dangerous complications like pulmonary embolism, coronary heart disease or stroke.
It’s possible for a blood clot (or thrombus) to form on the wall of a blood vessel or in the heart when blood, platelets, proteins and cells stick together. However, a blood clot stopping the flow of blood is a serious health issue that must be treated right away.
Luckily, blood clots are among the most preventable types of blood conditions. In fact, you can decrease your chances of developing a blood clot with simple lifestyle changes. If you already have a blood clot, there are things you can do to limit the amount of time you are on blood thinners and other conventional forms of treatment.
What Is a Blood Clot?
A blood clot prevents excessive bleeding when a blood vessel has been injured. Normally, when you injure yourself, your blood vessels become narrower. The narrowed blood vessels reduce the flow of blood to the injured tissue and limit the loss of blood. Then blood platelets and proteins in your plasma attach to the damaged area of the blood vessel. They clump together to reduce the bleeding. The clump is solidified by 13 substances in the blood and tissue. These substances are clotting factors or coagulation factors.
Typically, your body will naturally dissolve the blood clot when the injury has healed. Sometimes clots form on the inside of vessels when there is no external injury or they don’t dissolve naturally. If blood flows too slowly and starts to build up, large numbers of platelets may group together, stick to each other and form a blood clot. When blood clots form inside of your veins without a good reason, and don’t dissolve naturally, they may require medical attention and can even cause complications. (1)
Common Blood Clot Symptoms
Blood clot symptoms vary depending on where the clot is located. According to the American Society of Hematology, you may experience the following symptoms if a blood clot has developed in these specific locations:
Heart — heaviness or pain in the chest, shortness of breath, sweating, nausea, lightheadedness, and discomfort in other areas of the upper body
Brain — weakness of the face, arms or legs, vision problems, difficulty speaking, sudden and severe headache and dizziness
Lung — sharp chest pain, shortness of breath, racing heart, fever, sweating and coughing up blood
Arm or Leg — sudden or gradual pain, swelling, tenderness and warmth
Abdomen — intense abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea (2)
Types of Blood Clots
Blood clots can occur in your veins or arteries. Both are vessels that help transport blood throughout the body, but they function differently. Veins are vessels that carry oxygen-depleted blood away from the body’s organs and back to the heart. When an abnormal blood clot forms in a vein, it may restrict the return of blood to the heart, causing pain and swelling as blood gathers behind the clot.
A Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot that forms in a major, or deep vein of the body. Most deep vein blood clots occur in the lower leg or thigh. But, they can also occur in other parts of the body, like the arms or pelvis. When a blood clot in a deep vein breaks off and travels through the bloodstream, the loose clot is called an embolus. An embolus can travel through the heart to an artery in the lungs where it becomes wedged and blocks blood flow. This is an extremely dangerous condition called pulmonary embolism. Typical signs of pulmonary embolism include sudden breathing difficulties, coughing, coughing up blood and chest pain. (3)
DVT is a common preventable cause of death worldwide. However, it affects as many as 900,000 people in the United States each year and kills up to 100,000 people. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, among people who have had a DVT, one-half will have long-term complications such as swelling, pain, discoloration and scaling in the affected limb. (4)
Clotting that occurs in the arteries is different than when it occurs in the veins. Arteries are muscular vessels that carry oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood from the heart to other parts of the body. Clotting in the arteries is usually associated with the hardening of the arteries, called atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis occurs when plaque narrows the inside of the vessel. Plaque is made of cholesterol, fatty substances, cellular waste products, calcium and fibrin, a clotting material in the blood. When the passage in the artery begins to narrow, the strong arterial muscles continue to force blood through the opening with a lot of pressure. This can cause the plaque to rupture.
The molecules that are released in the rupture can cause the body to react by forming an unnecessary clot in the artery. At this point, your tissues and organs no longer get enough blood or they might not get any blood at all. Because this kind of blood clot usually develops in the coronary arteries or inside the heart, it can cause a heart attack or stroke. In fact, atherosclerosis is the primary cause of heart disease and stroke. In westernized societies, it is the underlying cause of about 50 percent of all deaths. (5)
Causes and Risk Factors
Venous Blood Clots
Blood clots can form in the deep veins of the legs if blood flow is restricted and it slows down. This may happen when you are immobile for long periods, such as after surgery, during a long trip in an airplane or car, or if you must stay in bed for an extended time.
Venous (in the vein) blood clots are more likely to develop in veins that have been damaged from certain surgeries or trauma. (6) Some other factors that increase your risk of developing venous blood clots include a family history of blood clots, age (over 60 years old), obesity, pregnancy, smoking and oral contraceptives. Some medications or illnesses, such as cancer or genetic coagulation disorders, can also increase the risk of developing blood clots.
There’s plenty of research that focuses on these major risk factors. Studies have shown that venous blood clots are the major cause of maternal death worldwide. There is a 5- to 10-fold increased risk in pregnant women compared to that in non-pregnant women of comparable age. (7)
Estrogen and progestogen oral contraception has been associated with an increase in venous blood clots, heart attack and stroke. Researchers at Trinity College in Ireland have found that these hazards are mainly in smokers and in women over the age of 35. These oral contraceptives affect blood clotting by increasing plasma fibrinogen, which helps in the formation of blood clots. (8)
Research also shows that cancer is one of the most important acquired risk factors for venous thromboembolism (VTE). This may be due to the tumor, the patient’s body or the therapies that the patient is receiving. VTE is actually the second leading cause of death in hospitalized patients with cancer, after infections. Data from several investigations suggests that people with pancreatic cancer, lymphoma and brain cancer have a greater risk of developing venous blood clots. (9)
In rare cases, an air bubble or part of a tumor or other tissue travels to the lungs and causes a blood clot in the lungs. A blood clot in the lungs is a pulmonary embolism. If a large bone in the body (like the thigh bone) breaks, fat from the bone marrow can travel through blood and reach the lungs.
Arterial Blood Clots
Causes and risk factors for arterial clots include obesity, lack of exercise, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and smoking. Lifestyle changes and diet modifications can help eliminate these risks.
According to research published in Blood Transfusion, people with metabolic syndrome have at least three of the following health issues: abdominal obesity, elevated triglycerides, reduced HDL cholesterol, elevated blood pressure and elevated fasting glucose. There is increasing evidence that there’s an association between arterial blood clots (atherothrombosis) and these contributors to metabolic syndrome. In addition, meta-analyses of randomized controlled studies have found that there are three health changes that can help to reduce your changes of developing arterial disease. They include blood pressure and cholesterol reduction, and smoking cessation. (10)
Research shows that there is a dramatic increase in the risk of both arterial and venous blood clots with age. This may be due to vessel wall damage, decreased regular exercise, increasing immobility and increasing systemic activation of blood coagulation. (11)
People with atrial fibrillation have a higher risk of blood clots in the heart. Atrial fibrillation is a type of irregular heartbeat that involves the two chambers of the heart beating very fast and irregularly. This doesn’t allow blood to flow through the heart as quickly and steadily.
Conventional Treatment for Blood Clots
Conventional treatments for blood clots vary depending on the location of the clot and your health. Some forms of treatment include:
- Anticoagulants: anticoagulants and antiplatelet agents reduce blood clotting in an artery, a vein or the heart. These medications are sometimes called “blood thinners.” They prevent your blood from clotting or prevent existing clots from getting larger. Examples of anticoagulants include heparin, warfarin, dabigitran, apixaban and rivoraxaban. Anticoagulants can cause side effects, including dizziness, bruising easily, headache and stomach pain. When using blood thinners, make sure to avoid taking other drugs (like aspirin, Advil and ibuprofen) at the same time because this can cause negative effects. (12)
- Thrombolytics: thrombolytics dissolve blood clots and limit the damage caused by the blockage of a blood vessel. Examples of thrombolytics include tissue plasminogen activators, streptokinase and urokinase. These drugs are sometimes given in combination with anticoagulants. Hemorrhagic stroke is a rare but serious complication of using thrombolytic drugs.
- Catheter-directed thrombolysis: catheter-directed thrombolytic therapy is a nonsurgical treatment for acute deep vein thrombosis. It is used to dissolve blood clots. A thin plastic tube delivers clot-dissolving medications, called thrombolytics, directly to the clot. The risks of this procedure include bruising, bleeding, or swelling where the tube entered the body. In rare cases, bleeding occurs elsewhere, such as in your intestines or brain. (13)
- Surgical Thrombectomy: Surgical thrombectomy means surgically removing a blood clot from inside an artery or vein. During the procedure, a surgeon makes an incision into a blood vessel. Then the surgeon removes the clot and repairs the blood vessel. The risks of this type of surgery include excess bleeding, damage to the blood vessel and pulmonary embolism. (14)
8 Natural Remedies for Blood Clots
1. Change Your Diet
As you’ll recall, metabolic syndrome is associated with the development of blood clots. Changing your diet to maintain a healthy weight, lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels, improve insulin sensitivity and reduce overall inflammation is extremely important. Be sure to focus on eating healing foods, which include dark leafy greens, colorful vegetables (like yellow squash, red bell peppers and purple eggplant), fruits, legumes, whole grains (like oatmeal and brown rice) and omega-3 foods (like wild-caught salmon, walnuts, flaxseeds and grass-fed beef). These foods will help to keep your vascular system active, improve your heart health, and help you to lose weight.
You also need to avoid the foods that are harming your body. These foods include artificial sweeteners, diet sodas, trans fats (like baked goods), refined carbohydrates and sugar. You should also limit your alcohol consumption. Men should have no more than two drinks containing alcohol a day and women should have no more than one drink containing alcohol a day. (15)
2. Stay Active
In order to avoid blood clots from forming, it’s important that you stay active. Make sure you stay active by exercising regularly and avoiding periods of prolonged inactivity or immobilization. (16) How much exercise should you get? Try for at least 30 minutes of daily exercise (or 60 to 90 minutes if it’s low intensity). You can also try doing shorter, but more intense workouts, like burst training or HIIT workouts.
It’s also helpful to take breaks regularly when you’ve been sitting for an extended period of time. Try to move around and stretch throughout the day.
3. Consider Switching Medications
Some medications can increase your risk for blood clots. These medications include hormone replacement drugs (usually used by menopausal or postmenopausal women), birth control pills, medications to control blood pressure and cancer treatment drugs. Be sure to check with your doctor regularly to see if your medications can be lowered or if they are contributing to any health problems. It may also be helpful to research natural remedies for the health conditions that you are currently treating with medications.
4. Quit Smoking
Studies show that smoking cigarettes or using electronic cigarettes and other tobacco products increases your risk of developing blood clots. The risk increases even more when combined with other risk factors like being overweight. (17) If you still smoke, quit as soon as you can. Some ways to quit include: joining a support group, hypnosis or meditation geared toward overcoming addictions, or talking to your doctor about other effective ways to quit.
Turmeric is a spice that reduces inflammation and acts as a natural anticoagulant and anti-platelet treatment. A 2012 study proved that curcumin, the polyphenol found in turmeric, inhibited the development of blood clots due to its anticoagulant activities. (18) Unlike most drugs used for blood clots, such as anticoagulants, turmeric has relatively no known side effects, unless taken in extremely large amounts.
Garlic is widely recognized as both a preventative agent and treatment of many cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, including blood clots. Studies have shown that raw garlic helps to reverse plaque buildup and prevents the accumulation of new plaque in the arteries. (19) One study published in the Journal of Postgraduate Medicine found that consuming raw garlic daily decreased serum cholesterol, and increased clotting time and fibrinolytic activity in the participants. In fact, the study proved that garlic may be a useful agent in preventing of thrombosis. (20)
7. Vitamin E
Vitamin E is an anticoagulant that is helpful against ischemic heart disease and stroke. (21) It is used to treat and prevent diseases of the heart and blood vessels, such as chest pain, high blood pressure and blocked or hardened arteries. You can increase your vitamin E intake by eating 2-3 of these vitamin E-rich foods daily: almonds, hazelnuts, avocado, butternut squash, mango, sunflower seeds, broccoli, spinach, kiwi and tomato.
8. Helichrysum Oil
Applying helichrysum topically may break up coagulated blood beneath the skin’s surface. Helichrysum also can help improve the condition of blood vessels by lowering inflammation, increasing smooth muscle function and lowering high blood pressure. (22) You can also use Helichrysum essential oil to improve circulation and decrease pain and swelling.
Seek emergency care if you experience difficult or painful breathing, chest pain or tightness, pain extending to your shoulder, arm, back or jaw, sudden changes in your vision, numbness of the face, arm or leg, or difficulty speaking.
If you have a blood clot or at are risk of developing a clot, use natural remedies under the care of your healthcare provider.
Final Thoughts on Blood Clots
- A blood clot prevents excessive bleeding when a blood vessel is injured. Typically, your body will naturally dissolve the blood clot when the injury has healed. Sometimes clots form on the inside of vessels when there is no external injury, or they don’t dissolve naturally.
- Blood clot symptoms vary depending on where the clot is located. Some common symptoms include pain and swelling, shortness of breath, sweating and nausea.
- There are two main types of blood clots, venous blood clots and arterial blood clots.
- The main causes and risk factors for venous and arterial blood clots is immobility, age, genetic factors, smoking, taking certain medications, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity and lack of exercise.
- Anticoagulants and thrombolytics are used to treat blood clots most often.
- Make lifestyle and diet changes to help to reduce your risk of developing blood clots. It’s very important to stay active. Some supplements that can be helpful include vitamin E, turmeric and garlic. Remember, it’s also very important that you don’t smoke cigarettes or use any type of tobacco product.
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