Blood Clots

Overview

What Are Blood Clots?

Blood clotting is a natural process that helps your body stop bleeding after you’ve been cut or injured. Once you start healing, your body is designed to automatically break down and dissolve blood clots, or thickened clumps of blood.

However, not all blood clots play a helpful role. If your body forms clots too easily or doesn’t allow them to dissolve properly (or both), the clots can threaten your life. They can block or restrict blood flow inside your veins and arteries, which can seriously damage your tissues and organs.

Clots: When to Seek Help Immediately

If you have blood clot symptoms, it’s important to seek treatment right away. Depending on where they’re located, clots can turn into embolisms. Embolisms are clots that break loose and travel through a vein or artery, blocking blood flow and possibly damaging your brain, heart, lungs or limbs.

World-Class Care

Aurora’s Specialized Treatment for Blood Clots

We understand that it can be very unsettling to learn that you have a blood clot or clotting disorder. Your Aurora Health Care team will support you through every step of your diagnosis and treatment.

At Aurora, you can expect:

  • Coordinated appointments: Whenever possible, we try to arrange multiple appointments on the same day to save you time. For instance, we might arrange for you to undergo an ultrasound scan for the blood clot right after your office visit.
  • Innovative clinical trials and treatments: Our doctors regularly participate in research and clinical trials for new technology and procedures to treat blood clots. This research creates new treatment options for you.
  • Specialty surgical rooms: Our hybrid surgical facilities are the only ones of their kind in Wisconsin. They allow us to treat blood clots and other conditions more quickly, using the latest technology. Learn more about our cardiovascular surgery program.

Causes & Risk Factors

Why Blood Clots Form & Who May Develop Them

People can develop blood clots for many different reasons. They may:

  • Have genetic health conditions that are associated with developing clots
  • Have diabetes or metabolic syndrome (conditions that can encourage clot formation)
  • Be overweight or a smoker
  • Be pregnant
  • Have been inactive for long periods of time due to travel, illness or surgery

Symptoms

Blood Clot Symptoms

If you develop a blood clot, you may experience:

  • Unexplained, sudden high blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Leg pain, swelling, redness and warmth, which are symptoms of a deep vein thrombosis (DVT), which often is a leg blood clot
  • Problems speaking or understanding speech, intense headache, paralysis or dizziness, which may be symptoms of a blood clot in your brain’s carotid artery that may be causing a stroke
  • Shortness of breath or pain in your chest, arm, shoulder or jaw, which are possible symptoms of a clot that could be causing a heart attack or pulmonary embolism

If you or someone you love has any of these symptoms, call 911 for immediate medical attention.

Diagnosis

Thorough Evaluation for Blood Clots

If you have blood clot symptoms or risk factors related to a clotting disorder, your Aurora doctor will ask you about your personal and family medical histories. Your doctor will also order some diagnostic tests.

Blood Tests

We may recommend blood-related lab tests or refer you to a hematologist (doctor who specializes in blood disorders).

Other Tests

In some cases, we may need detailed images of your veins, abdomen, chest, brain or other location a clot may have formed. Common imaging tests for blood clots include:

  • Radiographic testing:
    • Computerized tomography (CT) scan
    • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Ultrasound: An imaging method that uses sound waves to create pictures of your body’s organs and blood vessels

Learn more about heart and vascular testing and diagnosis at Aurora.

Treatments

Treatments for Blood Clots

Your doctor will discuss treatment options with you. Recommendations will vary, depending on how serious the blood clot or clotting disorder has become:

  • Medication management: If the clot does not pose an emergency, we may treat it with anticoagulants, or blood thinners. We will carefully monitor your blood to make sure the medication doesn’t cause additional bleeding. Learn more about our anticoagulation clinics.
  • Emergency blood clot treatment: If a clot causes a stroke, heart attack, pulmonary embolism or other serious condition, you’ll need immediate, emergency treatment, potentially including:
    • Catheter-directed thrombolysis: This procedure uses a thin tube called a catheter to direct medication into the blood clot to dissolve it. Learn more about cardiac catheterization.
    • Vena cava filter surgery: Your surgeon inserts a metal filter into an abdominal vein to stop blood clots from moving to your lungs or heart. Learn more about vena cava filters.

If you have underlying health conditions that may increase your risk of developing blood clots, your condition could improve if you make some lifestyle changes. You might consider quitting smoking, getting more regular exercise and eating a healthy diet.

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