September 23, 2021
Did the news reports about blood clots as a potential side effect of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine concern you? While chances of getting this side effect are incredibly small, it’s important to understand why blood clots can be dangerous, especially if you suffer from vein disease.
The good news is that there are things you can do to help prevent them from developing in the first place - and we’ve put together a simple guide of things to look out for when it comes to maintaining healthy veins.
Varicose veins are often thought of as just a cosmetic issue, but vein disease can lead to skin damage, ulceration and blood clots. In turn, these developed stages of varicose veins can result in thrombosis, and potentially even cause a pulmonary embolism (sudden blockage of a lung artery) if a blood clot obstructs the flow of blood in the lungs.
It becomes more difficult for blood to flow through the gnarled and enlarged blood vessels that are varicose veins, causing blood to pool and eventually clot. As varicose veins are often near the surface of the skin, these blood clots are considered superficial. However, this condition can put you at increased risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and thrombophlebitis, which is when a vein blood clot causes inflammation and pain.
A blood clot happens when the blood thickens and clumps together. Useful in protecting our bodies when we get a scrape or a cut, they become far more dangerous when they develop inside our veins.
Blood clots in the veins can also cause swelling and chronic pain. In extreme cases, pulmonary embolisms can make a person especially vulnerable as the blood clot blocks the lungs, which can contribute to permanent lung damage and even cause a fatal heart attack.
Blood clots can also be the result of May-Thurner Syndrome, in which blood flow is restricted by a large artery in the abdomen, putting pressure on a large vein in the same area. This can also lead to swelling and even DVT.
The main symptoms of a blood clot include throbbing pain, an unusual warmth accompanied by a reddish tinge of the limbs, sudden breathlessness, sharp chest pain or coughing up blood. If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s very important to seek urgent help.
There is an increased risk of developing blood clots if a person has been immobile for an extended period, such as during a prolonged period of illness or after a major operation. This is because the calf muscles become so relaxed that they become less efficient at pumping blood up from the leg back to the heart. Other risk factors include smoking, being overweight, using combined hormonal contraception or having an inflammatory condition.
If you have developed a blood clot, your doctor may prescribe you anticoagulant medication to thin your blood and break down the clot.
Another serious blood clotting condition is thrombophlebitis, which occurs when small blood clots in the veins harden and become inflamed. Sufferers of this condition are frequently misdiagnosed and prescribed antibiotics, as opposed to anti-coagulation drugs that will help thin their blood and reduce inflammation.
When these lumps occur within a varicose vein, the condition may spread throughout the body, meaning that patients with this condition are more likely to develop DVT later in life.
How Deep Vein Thrombosis Can Lead to a Pulmonary Embolism
Deep veins refer to the veins that are located deeper inside the body, beneath the muscles. The area that becomes affected by the blood clot may swell up, feel warm and turn red, developing into a condition called thrombosis, which can eventually lead to DVT.
Those who suffer from varicose veins are 5 times more likely to develop DVT, making vein disease an early warning sign for this severe condition. As it’s only at later stages of vein disease that blood clots start to form in the deep veins, the earlier you seek treatment for your varicose veins, the more you’ll reduce your risk of developing DVT.
Symptoms that are specific to DVT include pain, warmth and swelling around the diseased vein, along with a darker or reddish appearance. It is possible to experience DVT in the arms as well as the lower body.
In the worst-case scenario, DVT can lead to a pulmonary embolism. A pulmonary embolism can kill a person if it’s detected too late, but a full recovery can occur if it’s detected early.
Alongside DVT symptoms, warning signs of pulmonary embolisms include chest pain or aching of the upper back, breathing problems and coughing up of blood.
Your doctor will likely treat DVT and pulmonary embolism with a heparin injection, another kind of blood thinner, to break down the clot. You may also undergo an ultrasound to detect the location of the blood clot.
For the next 5 days, your doctor may give you anticoagulant injections to prevent new clots from forming. Then, over the course of 3 months, your doctor can prescribe anticoagulant tablets to continue to break down the clot so that blood can flow through the vein with ease once more.
Reduce Your Risk
Whilst blood clots are rare, the consequences can be extremely serious. Fortunately, there are some actions that you can take to minimise your risk of developing blood clots and varicose veins, thus significantly reducing the likelihood that you’ll suffer from DVT or a pulmonary embolism.
Stay active and healthy, no matter your age. Alongside exercise, maintaining a healthy diet will improve your vein health. Avocados, for example, are beneficial in preventing blood clots as they contain lots of Vitamin E, a natural blood thinner!
But the only way to get rid of varicose veins is through a minimally invasive treatment by a vascular specialist. If you have already developed varicose veins, consider seeking advice to ensure that your vein disease is not likely to evolve into the more severe conditions described in this article.