According to the American Society of Hematology, each year in the United States, approximately 900,000 people experience deep vein thrombosis or blood clots.

Know what to look for and avoid serious complications.

The first sign of a blood clot is mild pain. As the pain intensifies, the skin near the blood clot may become red and very warm to the touch. Since blood clots restrict blood flow, the pain often limits a person’s ability to move.

Most blood clots occur in the veins in the legs, but they can develop in arteries and other parts of the body, too.

Blood clots are serious.

If the blood clot breaks loose and travels through the veins or arteries to the heart, lungs, or brain, it could cause a heart attack, pulmonary embolism, stroke, or even death.

How do blood clots form?

In healthy people, blood clots form naturally after an injury or surgery. The platelets and plasma in the blood combine to start the clotting process. The first job of these cells is to build a dam to stop the blood, which prevents people from bleeding to death after a minor cut or scratch. The second job of this group of cells is to create a scab to protect the skin from infection while the body heals.

This is the body’s normal response to injury. As the tissues heal, the scab dissolves and is absorbed back into the body.

But blood clots that develop in the veins and arteries can be dangerous.

When circulation inside the blood vessels slows because of injury or other constricting conditions, the blood thickens. Platelets and plasma bond blood cells together and create the clot.

Blood clots that form for no apparent reason are the most dangerous.

Both arterial and venous clots can cause dangerous health complications if the clot travels.

A major cause of arterial blood clots is arteriosclerosis or hardening of the arteries. When plaque-build-up on the arterial wall ruptures, platelets and plasma rush in to repair the damage and create a blood clot. If the clot breaks free and travels to the lungs or the brain, it can have fatal consequences.

Deep vein thrombosis or DVT blood clots occur in the arms and legs but are more common in the latter.

People experiencing DVT blood clots will feel increasing levels of pain. The skin around the area will become warm and sensitive to touch. The skin may have a reddened appearance as the body works to get rid of the clot. If blood flow is restricted, people often feel pain when they move the affected area, Anyone suffering these symptoms should call 9-1-1 and seek immediate treatment.

Are you at risk for a DVT blood clot?

Several conditions increase the likelihood of deep vein thrombosis.

• Obesity slows blood flow, which creates the potential for blood clots.
• Sitting in one position for two or three hours or more while traveling in a car or plane hinders muscle movement and restricts proper circulation.
• Smoking decreases the oxygen in the blood and blood flow.
• Trauma or surgery can cause immobilization and stress the circulatory system, which heightens the risk.
• Age increases the risk, especially for people over 60 years of age.
• Diabetes damages nerves and interferes with circulation.
• Cancer and chronic inflammatory diseases increase the risk of circulation issues.
• Pregnancy, birth-control pills, and other hormonal treatments can impact the body’s clotting response.

Some research suggests endurance athletes may also have an increased risk of life-threatening blood clots because of injury, dehydration, and travel. The signs of a blood clot mimic the symptoms of many sports-related muscle injuries. Athletes may ignore a blood clot thinking it is an injury that will heal with time.

Can you prevent blood clots?

Yes. Many blood clots are preventable.

Prevent arterial blood clots by watching your diet, monitoring your blood pressure, and taking action to keep your cholesterol numbers in check. Work with your healthcare provider to determine the best prevention plan for your health. You can reduce your risk of clots in your veins by making lifestyle changes.

• If you smoke, stop.
• If you’re overweight, lose weight by eating nutrition-rich foods and exercising to burn excess calories.
• Avoid long periods of immobility. If you’re traveling by car, stop often. If you’re flying, stand up and walk around every hour or two.
• If you have diabetes or a chronic inflammatory disease, be vigilant, and maintain your health. Ask your healthcare provider for specific ways you can avoid blood clots.

How are blood clots treated?

If you receive a DVT blood clot diagnosis, your healthcare provider may refer you to a hematologist, a physician specialized in the treatment of blood-related conditions.

After your diagnosis, your healthcare team will determine which treatment is the most effective for your condition. Your treatment plan will be based on your current health, any underlying conditions, and the location of the blood clot.

Medication is an effective treatment for some types of blood clots.

Anticoagulants, like warfarin or heparin, prevent blood clots from forming.
Thrombolytics dissolve blood clots that have formed and are causing problems.

Catheter-directed thrombolysis. Other blood clots require more intervention. Catheter-directed thrombolysis is a procedure that inserts a catheter into the vein to deliver clot-dissolving medication directly to the clot.

Surgery. Clots located in critical areas or those that don’t respond well to medication or other minimally invasive techniques may require surgical removal.

What if I have leg pain, but I’m not sure if it is a blood clot?

Blood clots that cause symptoms are serious and need immediate medical attention. If you have pain in your legs or arms accompanied by redness and swelling that seems to get worse, contact your healthcare provider or visit an urgent care facility for treatment.