A blood clot is a mass of coagulated blood that has formed within a blood vessel. Blood clots can pose a serious health risk, leading to stroke, pulmonary emboli, loss of a limb or death if not identified and treated properly. Approximately two-thirds of patients who are diagnosed with a blood clot actually have an underlying tendency to clot, which is also known as thrombophilia. Up to 8 percent of people in the U.S. have a thrombophilia that is inherited genetically.
Risk factors for blood clots can be inherited from one or both of your parents or acquired after surgery, trauma, medical disease, medication use, or prolonged periods of decreased movement, such as during international flights or hospitalizations.
Blood Clot Types
A blood clot, also called a thrombosis, can form within any blood vessel in the body. Large blood clots that do not break down can cause serious health problems.
Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)
DVTs are blood clots that form within deep veins, usually in the legs or pelvis but sometimes in the arms. Symptoms can include swelling or pain in the legs. Clots fragments that break off and travel to another part of the body can cause heart attack, stroke or lung problems.
Pulmonary Embolism (PE)
A DVT that breaks off and travels to the lungs is called a pulmonary embolism. A clot that becomes lodged in a lung artery can cause lung damage, organ damage or death.
A blood clot that forms in an artery is called an arterial thrombosis. Arterial clots that break apart can damage any of several different organs.
About 60 to 70 percent of patients who suffer a blood clot have a medical tendency to form blood clots. The tendency toward blood clotting is called thrombophilia. Some types of thrombophilia are inherited genetically. Other thrombophilias are acquired. For example, surgery patients, cancer patients and pregnant women are at a higher risk for blood clots.
Physicians in the Benign Hematology Program treat blood clots and help patients understand their risk for future clotting. They determine the causes of existing clots and evaluate patients for inherited or acquired thrombophilia.
Following are several types of thrombophilia.
Antiphospholipid Antibody Syndrome (APLS)
APLS is an autoimmune disease in which the body produces antibodies against certain blood proteins, increasing the propensity to clot. This syndrome is not inherited, and it is common among pregnant women. For people who test positive for APLS but never have a clot, aspirin may be prescribed as a preventive measure.
Factor V Leiden
Factor V is one of the proteins that make up the coagulation system. People with Factor V Leiden have an abnormal coagulant protein that does not deactivate when it should. This condition increases the patient’s risk of clotting. It is the most common inherited thrombophilia.
Prothrombin Gene Mutation
In people with this inherited condition, the body produces too much prothrombin, a coagulant protein that is also called Factor II.
Protein C Deficiency, Protein S Deficiency, ATIII Deficiency
Protein C, protein S and ATIII are proteins that play key roles in controlling the clotting process. People with these inherited deficiency disorders do not produce enough of these proteins.
Blood Clot Treatment
Existing blood clots can be treated with a variety of drugs that promote clot breakdown. In some cases, clots can be removed using minimally invasive interventional radiology procedures. Long-term preventive treatment for blood clots generally involves blood thinner medications, also known as anticoagulants. One of the most common blood thinners is warfarin, but several different anticoagulants are available.
Our Anticoagulation Clinic provides specialized blood thinner management for patients in the Benign Hematology Program. Response to warfarin and other anticoagulants can vary from person to person. There is a narrow margin between too much and too little blood thinning.
The Anticoagulation Clinic is staffed by pharmacists with expertise in determining the right dose to provide protection against blood clots while minimizing the risk of bleeding. Once the clinic has identified the correct dose, patients can reduce blood draws to as little as once a month.