Preventing Blood Clots

As most people know, a blood clot can be one of our most deadly enemies, despite their small size. They can occur in either the arterial (high pressure) side or venous (low pressure) side of our vascular system. A “thrombus” occurs when there is a buildup of clot in a vessel, and an “embolus” occurs when a clot floats to another area thereby plugging a blood vessel.

Formation of arterial clots usually occurs as a result from damage to the lining of the blood vessel. Causes of such damage include smoking, abnormal cholesterol/lipid levels, and diabetes. Disturbance of blood flow patterns can also cause arterial clots. Examples include irregular heart rate (atrial fibrillation) and large-vessel aneurysm. Since most arterial clots are composed of platelets, aspirin (a platelet inhibitor) often has a role in prevention and treatment.

Although clots in the venous side share some of the same risk factors as arterial clots (smoking, for instance), lack of mobility for this already low-pressure flow is the major cause of venous clots. When blood does not flow, it tends to clot. As a result, surgery can be a major risk factor for venous clots. For prevention, your surgeon will often prescribe mechanical leg compression devices and/or low-dose blood thinners. For your part, frequent walking and good hydration starting soon after surgery will restore good venous flow and help prevent venous clots.

The same reasoning applies to long car or airplane trips. Since these clots are composed of clotting proteins rather than platelets, aspirin does not play much of a role in prevention.

So here are some tips to keep things flowing:

  • Don’t smoke
  • Move frequently throughout the day
  • Stay well-hydrated
  • Follow a healthy diet
  • Exercise regularly
  • Carefully manage contributing health issues such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol
  • Follow your doctor’s recommendation for aspirin or other blood-thinner use