Clotting is a vital part of how our circulatory system works. We need our blot to clot whenever we have an injury that allows blood to escape from a vessel. However, there are a lot of instances when blood clotting isn’t helpful, and even dangerous.
But first, what is clotting? It’s what happens essentially when platelets, certain proteins and red blood cells form a mass (clot) to stop the leakage of further blood. While this process is easy to see on the outside of the body (and is rarely a problem), clotting that occurs inside our bodies can be a big problem.
Clots can form inside of the vessels in our heart, brain, lungs, and really, anywhere. Sometimes they form in one place and travel in the bloodstream to another spot and that’s where they cause problems. A blood clot will eventually be stopped when the vessel it’s traveling in narrows to a point that it get stuck. A clot will then block regular blood flow, and without blood flow no more oxygen & nutrients are being delivered and or in the case of veins, cellular waste products can’t be removed from an area. Either way, clots inside the body are a bad deal.
Some of the more common areas for blood clots to form include:
- Deep veins of the lower leg, thighs or pelvis. These clots are referred to as DVTs or a deep venous thrombosis. Veins drain blood away from an area and these type of clots are usually painful (but not always!) and can lead to swelling, skin discoloration and may travel to other areas of the body. If not resolved quickly, damage to the muscle or tissues can occur.
- In the lungs, clots are referred to as a pulmonary embolism. These typically occur when a DVT breaks off and travels through the bloodstream, arriving in the lungs where blood vessels narrow considerably. Clots in the lung can damage lung tissue and prevent the lungs from sending oxygen into the bloodstream.
- Blood clots in the heart (in the coronary arteries) cause a myocardial infarction, or heart attack. Sometimes heart attacks are ‘minor’ and much of the time they are fatal.
Essentially though, blood clots can happen anywhere blood is flowing in your body.
Who’s at Risk?
Some of the most common causes for getting blood clots include:
- Family history of blood clots
- Staying put for too long, like on a plane or laying down being sick
- Heart Disease
- Atrial Fibrillation (a type of irregular heart beat)
- Some prescription drugs
- Birth control pills
While not an exhaustive list these are the most common reasons for clotting.
Symptoms of blood clots mainly depend on where they’re located in the body.
Legs: Pain may begin gradually or appear very suddenly. There can be swelling and warmth as well.
Lungs: Shortness of breath, rapid breathing, pain with deep breathing; maybe an increased heart rate too.
Heart: Shortness of breath, chest pain, sweating, anxiety and pain in the left arm
Brain: Difficulty with vision, speaking, pain and weakness on one side of the face.
The changes brought on blood clots generally occur quite rapidly and are associated with discomfort, letting you know something is wrong.
Dealing with Blood Clots
If you suspect you have a blood clot, emergency treatment is always required! In medicine we speak of “The 5 most dangerous words” and those are: ‘Maybe It Will Go Away’ - this is especially true when it comes to blood clots - they rarely go away on their own, nor without significant medical intervention.
It never hurts to get checked out (sooner rather than later) if you have new or different symptoms of any kind. In the case of clots, they can be life threatening so it’s even more important to be seen.
In the event of emergency treatment for blood clots, a combination of blood thinners, thrombolytics (drugs that break up clots) and surgery may be used depending on the type and location of the clot.
First, the basics - these go without saying but we’re going to anyway: Don’t smoke, maintain a healthy weight and stay active.
Going forward there are a natural medicines that can help minimize inflammation and the tendency to clot; these include:
- Fish Oil
The omega-3 fats contained in fish oils are perhaps some of the most potent natural-anticoagulants (blood thinners) around. Omega-3’s help prevent blood clots by making platelets (the cells in your blood that lead the formation of clotting) less sticky, so to speak. Keep in mind fish oil or the other items we mention don’t actually make your blood ‘thinner’; this is just a phrase that’s commonly used to describe the prevention of clotting.
- Systemic Enzymes
Enzymes are specialized proteins that our bodies make to help speed up or change the thousands of different chemical reactions that go on. One group of enzymes (known as proteolytic enzymes) can help minimize blood clotting by clearing excess fibrin (a clotting chemical) from the blood and also by reducing the ‘stickiness’ of platelets. For the purpose of keeping the blood less prone to clots, it’s important to take them on an empty stomach - otherwise the enzymes will be used trying to digest the food in your belly, other than being absorbed into the bloodstream.
- Ginger, cinnamon, cayenne peppers, and garlic are all natural blood thinners. Adding these into your diet will help keep your blood from clotting as easily. Eating them in regular amounts is perfectly ok, but if you also happen to be on blood-thinning medications it’s a good idea to at least check in with your doctor and see how adding these foods into your diet increases your ability to clot. More isn’t always better, but adding these in for most of us will only help to minimize the chances of clotting.
Lastly, keep moving after your workouts! For many people the tendency is to get home, eat and then flop down on the couch and rest. We’ve known a handful of athletes over the years who’ve done this and wound up with a DVT. Also, be aware if you’ve had a heavy training cycle and then wind up on an airplane -this is also where a lot of blood clots occur just due to the nature of sitting in a cramped seat for several hours. Even the fittest among us can get a clot from sitting!
So, get home after your workout, get some food and then don’t just lay around for the next few hours. Try to keep moving, and or if you do sit down for a spell be sure to flex your feet - this will keep the blood moving even when you aren’t. You can do the same on a plane - flex your feet back and forth and of course get up when you can.
Remember, check with your doctor about adding anything into your regimen if you’re already on blood-thinning medication. The items we listed above can have potent interactions with prescription anti-clotting medications.