Blood clots can be deadly, but treatable

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It is probably well known that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the US. Another leading cause of death, which may be lesser known, is a blood clot.

A blood clot in a large vein, usually in a leg or arm, is called deep vein thrombosis. If not treated, the clot can move or break off and travel to the lungs. A blood clot in the lung is called a pulmonary embolism, which restricts blood flow to the lungs. It lowers oxygen levels in the lungs and increases blood pressure in the pulmonary arteries.

On average, one American dies of a blood clot every six minutes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Pulmonary embolism (PE) is the leading cause of death in women during pregnancy, or just after having a baby. Additionally, one of four people who have a pulmonary embolism die without warning.

The CDC advises people to seek immediate medical attention if they experience any of the following symptoms, which may indicate a pulmonary embolism:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain that worsens with a deep breath
  • Coughing up blood
  • Faster than normal or irregular heartbeat

Blood clots can affect anyone. However, they can be safely treated and are often preventable. Major risk factors for a blood clot include:

  • Certain medicines, such as birth control pills and estrogen replacement therapy
  • Trauma, particularly when a vein is injured
  • Immobility or sitting for long periods
  • Being overweight
  • Family history of blood clots
  • Smoking
  • Cancer and cancer therapy

Early diagnosis of a blood clot is critical to prevent death or a serious health problem. Talk to your primary care provider about the risks for blood clots and how they can be prevented.