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Understanding blood clots

GLENN ELLIS | 4/17/2017, 2:56 a.m.
Up to 600,000 people in the United States are affected by venous thromboembolism each year, a disease that includes deep ...
A thrombus is a blood clot that forms in a vessel and remains there. An embolism is a clot that travels from the site where it formed to another location in the body. Thrombi or emboli can lodge in a blood vessel and block the flow of blood in that location depriving tissues of normal blood flow and oxygen. This can result in damage, destruction (infarction), or even death of the tissues (necrosis) in that area. A.D.A.M. Inc. Graphic

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Up to 600,000 people in the United States are affected by venous thromboembolism each year, a disease that includes deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism. Each year, 100,000 to 300,000 deaths from blood clots occur, which is greater than the total number of people who lose their lives each year to AIDS, breast cancer and motor vehicle crashes combined.

Blood clots can be serious complications of orthopedic surgeries like joint replacement or surgery to repair knee, hip or other joints. Here’s how to recognize and minimize your risk of blood clots.

Blood clot formation, also known as coagulation, is your body’s normal response in certain situations. For example, if you cut your hand or finger, a blood clot forms in the injured area to stop the bleeding and help heal your cut. These types of blood clots are not only beneficial, but help prevent excessive blood loss in the event you are badly hurt.

A blood clot can occur in just about any part of the body. Blood clots are usually harmless. Sometimes, though, blood clots can be dangerous. For example, undergoing major surgery can make you more susceptible to developing dangerous blood clots in areas such as the lungs or brain. Blood clots are a serious complication that surgery patients can experience during and after the procedure. While a blood clot that forms in the leg is a serious condition, blood clots can quickly become life-threatening conditions if they move to the brain (embolic/ischemic stroke) or the lungs (pulmonary embolism). These complications are very serious and must be treated quickly to minimize the damage caused to the body or the brain.

A blood clot is more likely to form during or after surgery than it is during your routine day to day life. There are multiple reasons for this, but one major cause is lying still on the operating table for an extended period of time. This inactivity makes it easier for blood to clot because you aren’t moving blood through your body as quickly or as forcefully as you typically would during your procedure.

DVT is the most common kind of blood clot people have after surgery for a total hip replacement, total knee replacement or a broken hip. Most people who have one of these major surgeries are less active for several days or weeks after the surgery. This can cause blood flow to slow down, which increases the risk for a blood clot. People with a DVT may not have any symptoms and may not know they have one.

As many as 4 people out of 10 who do not receive medicine to prevent blood clots develop a DVT within one or two weeks of having major hip or knee surgery.

Some people are inactive after their surgery because they are in pain, very sick or unable to walk. For these patients, the risk of clot formation is increased after the procedure has finished as well as during surgery because they continue to be inactive.