What Causes Blood Clots and Why Thick Blood Can Be a Problem?

What Causes Blood Clots

When most people hear the phrase “blood clot” they immediately think of something that is bad, but blood clots are actually useful and good in most cases. They are formed in order to stop bleeding, which can prevent complications resulting from illness and injury. However, exploring what causes blood clots cannot fail to include some of the times that the formation of the clot is a bad thing, such as a blood clot in brain blood vessels, a precursor to stroke.

Most of the time, the process of the formation of blood clots begins with a pack of platelets that head to an area where a blood vessel has become damaged and is therefore releasing substances known as thrombogenic substances. These platelets are the first on site to being the process or forming a blood clot. Once there, they work in two ways to counteract the damage, first by forming a plug and secondly by initiating chemical releases that are integral in the formation of clots. These chemical reactions are combined with proteins in the blood to hasten the clot formation, ultimately increasing strength and durability. The formed plug is then kept in check by the body’s own anti-clotting proteins, which keep it of proper size. Once the clot is no longer needed to heal and protect, it is broken down and reabsorbed. Of course, this textbook process is what occurs in healthy people, and what causes blood clots is not always injury or trauma, which can greatly complicate and already delicate system.

Although blood clot causes are centered on the release of thrombogenic substances in what would seem like a rather closed system, there is one foreign invader within the body that can contribute to the untimely and unwanted release of these clot creating compounds and that is cholesterol. Plaques formed by cholesterol build up on the walls of the arteries and on occasion rupture. This can result in the instant and rapid release of thrombogenic substances creating blood clots in various parts of the body. Often, this is what causes blood clots when a heart attack or stroke results.

But, blood flow itself as well as consistency without the added hazards of thrombogenic substances can play a role in what causes blood clots as well. For instance, thick blood, a common characteristic in smokers, has a much more difficult time happily navigating throughout the body. It can become sticky, thickened and slower. Not only does this mean that the body is getting less healthy and fresh oxygenated blood circulating throughout, which is required to keep organs healthy, but also that the risk for a blood clot is much higher. As the damage from the sticky and thick blood progresses, it can lead to an increased risk for blood clots in lungs known as pulmonary embolism and other parts of the body.

Blood viscosity in general can be a consideration when examining what causes blood clots, and there are even some health conditions that can create a situation where blood becomes thicker and reduces the amount of oxygen being delivered throughout the body. Polycythemia Vera is a rare condition in which a genetic mutation is responsible for the production of more red blood cells than normal. Since red blood cells carry oxygen to needy parts of the body and remove harmful carbon dioxide, it is easy to assume that having a few extra of them might not be such a bad thing. But, their over abundance leads to an increase in blood viscosity that can very easily result in a blood clot if not treated and managed properly.

Blood clots are very serious when they occur for reasons other than healing and under normal circumstances. And, even when they appear in places that seem less serious such as the leg, they can very easily break off and travel quickly upward. This means that blood clots in legs can rapidly cut off blood supply to the brain and heart for example, which can lead to a heart attack or a stroke. What is worse that in some cases, what causes blood clots is rather easily identifiable (smoking and immobility being common culprits) but, symptoms are not always abundantly evident. Typically, blood clot symptoms present in the area around the clot, with the actual affected area providing few if any signs of trouble. Swelling and discoloration may occur. And, depending on location, numbness, loss of sensation and even loss of movement can be experienced. Sometimes, pain and redness can be encountered.

It is very important that medical attention be sought out if blood clots are suspected. And, it is also important to be aware of their potential to form if any risk factors for what causes blood clots exist (such as smoking, immobilization, health conditions or medications that thicken the blood). It is possible that medications may be needed in order to correct the consistency of the blood (there are natural blood thinners to consider as well, but they should never be used or considered without the consent of a health care provider). The end result of blood clots can be serious health complications or even death, further emphasizing the importance of proper medical care.

References:
1. http://www.webmd.com/dvt/blood-clots
2. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/poly/
3. http://www.medicinenet.com/blood_clots/article.htm

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